Qualifying and participating in the Olympics is very much part of the Indian football team’s future goals, according to All India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary Kushal Das.
From 1948 to 1960, the Indian national football team featured regularly at the Olympics and even reached the semi-finals in the 1956 Melbourne Games. Since 1960, however, India has been unable to make it to the main event.
With Indian football progressing rapidly over the last decade, there’s a concerted effort to play the big tournaments in the continent and of course, the FIFA World Cup. The Olympics too remain in AIFF’s vision.
“Qualifying for the Olympics is very much part of the overall strategic plan in terms of what we want to achieve,” Kushal Das responded to the Olympic Channel’s query during a webinar organised by the West Bengal Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s part of our pursuit of excellence, which is one of the strategic goals. And the Olympics is very much up there.”
Two-stage development plan
Das also gave a detailed overview of the two-phase strategic plan in place to drive the growth of Indian football.
He noted that with the implementation of the Baby and Youth leagues all across India and improving the level of coach’s education, the AIFF has been able to achieve 75-80 per cent of the first part of the strategic plan.
Explaining the blueprint for the second phase, Das said the development has to happen through competitions and that must start from the grassroots level.
“Leagues will be crucial. A minimum of 40-45 games every year starting from grassroots, Baby Leagues, Youth Leagues, etc must be played.”
He also stressed the importance of ‘going local’ by equipping the state federations to be more self-reliant.
ISL and I-League in November?
Kushal Das also stated that the AIFF is working hard to facilitate the return of domestic football post the COVID-19-enforced lockdown.
While resumption of the incomplete second division I-League in mid-September is the first item on the agenda, a November date is being eyed for the new season of the Indian Super League and the I-League – the two most followed football competitions in the country.
“We are planning to start the senior leagues sometime in November. India has a World cup qualifier in November against Afghanistan and after that, I think we will probably start the ISL, and the I-League soon after.
“At this point in time this is the only plan we have, hoping it can be implemented,” Das said.
He, however, reiterated that the leagues will be conducted keeping the COVID safety protocols in mind.
“I think as things look it has to be behind closed doors and a single venue because we cannot afford to take risks with the players, with their travel and there are different protocols and SOPs in different states.”
While the venues are yet to be finalized, Das also hinted that the ISL may be played in Goa while Kolkata was the likely destination for the I-League.