FIFA eyes India 'revolution' from U-17 World Cup

Abhaya SRIVASTAVA
Despite almost half the population of more than 1.2 billion being under 25 years old, football has struggled to make inroads in India

A top FIFA official believes hosting the Under-17 World Cup has the potential to spark a football revolution in India -- and lead to lasting change in the global game.

The run-up to October's tournament will see a programme called Mission XI Million aim to involve millions of children across the world's second-most populous nation in trying out the "beautiful game".

"We are doing more than just an event... We are here on a road to change football in India, to bring about a revolution for football in India," Javier Ceppi, FIFA U17 World Cup tournament director, told AFP.

"The project has the objective of reaching out to 11 million kids in the run-up to the World Cup," the Chilean explained during an interview in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The scheme, which will include coaching sessions, will go to 15,000 schools across 36 cities in the cricket-mad country and aims to foster a love of football that will be passed down to future generations

It will, he said, enable the U-17 World Cup to be part of creating a lasting football legacy in India.

"If we manage to do it right this has the potential of changing football in India. If it changes football in India it changes football in the world definitely," said Ceppi.

Despite almost half the population of more than 1.2 billion being under 25 years old, football has struggled to make inroads into the Asian giant, where cricket rules the playing fields.

India's national I-League is popular in only a few pockets of the vast country, while the creation three years ago of the Indian Super League, a franchise competition along the lines of cricket's Indian Premier League, has failed to raise standards.

While the ISL has witnessed large attendance at games, due mainly to the number of foreign players, the national side continues to lurk in the doldrums.

India are currently 130th in the FIFA world rankings, wedged between minnows Suriname and the Dominican Republic, with little sign that an upturn in fortunes is around the corner.

However, Ceppi, remains upbeat that India's hosting of a FIFA competition for the first time can help rewrite the country's footballing script.

"It is a true legacy that we are leaving from the tournament. This will allow us to show that India is actually the passionate giant of football, that kids in India are actually extremely into football," Ceppi said.

"The project can change the outlook and how football will be seen in the world in the next 10-15 years."

The Under-17 World Cup will be held across six venues from October 6-28. The schedule is expected to be announced later this month.