KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- India is relying on international football’s insatiable appetite to conquer new ground in its bid to win host rights to the Asian Cup in 2027.
The All India Football Federation, having just launched a campaign proclaiming a Brighter Future Together, confronts powerful opposition in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Early expressions of interest from Iraq, Jordan and Uzbekistan never materialised.
World federation FIFA has no formal say in the decision by the Asian Football Confederation and cannot express an official preference. However it has made no secret in the past decade of a will to encourage the cause of association football in a land of 1.3bn, the world’s second most-populous nation.
In domestic terms cricket and field hockey should beware. This was the message delivered in New Delhi by AIFF president Praful Patel and Youth and Sports Minister Shri Kiren Rijiju.
India has form. It hosted the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and will stage the rescheduled U-17 Women’s World Cup and Women’s Asian Cup in 2022. The U-17 World Cup was the best-attended FIFA age-group event: some 1.34m fans watched the 52 games for an average per match of 25,906, impressive for a youth tournament.
Patel, first Indian to sit on the FIFA Council, is predictably enthusiastic at the opportunity to promote Indian football in the campaign ahead.
He said: “We are very hopeful and excited for the future of Indian football. Indian is a large country with a large population and the average age of 28 also makes us a young country.”
Patel viewed India’s status beyond the mainstream of the international game as a valuable selling point.
He said: “While India is not recognised on the football map of Asia or the world we are seeing a huge change in the pattern of sport being played in India We are gradually moving away from being only a cricket-crazy nation to many other sports with football being one of the major beneficiaries.
“India has so many parts which have a lot of football being played – in fact, primarily only football being played – especially from the north-east and some of the major states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa and West Bengal where football has become the most popular sport.
“We do not claim to be in the league of big nations in football but we are getting there and, unless you give the others a chance to move up the ladder, how else will we come up?”
Along the way Patel wants to see football’s rise rewarded by an appearance in the expanded World Cup finals in 2026 when eight qualifying slots will be open to Asian confederation members compared with four plus a playoff option in Qatar in 2022.
India’s Blue Tigers are currently 101 in the FIFA World Ranking. Their best finish in the Asian Cup was runners-up in a four-nation tournament in 1964.
An essential factor for all the 2027 bidders is government support and the Indian bid has no problems here.
Patel said: “We have a reasonably good infrastructure and we will have the entire might of the government of India supporting us. The government will leave no stone unturned.”
The campaign logo is said to “represent the ambition, commitment, focus and spirit of the bid, epitomised by the royal tiger.”
To borrow a long-ago petrol company boast, India wants international football to put a tiger in its tank.