FIFA chief to visit India next month

FIFA chief to visit India next month

NEW DELHI-Agence France-Presse
FIFA chief to visit India next month

Blatter will try to boost India’s interest in football with a visit to the country. AFP photo

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is to visit India in March as the football federation looks to develop one of the world’s most untapped markets, officials said yesterday.

India is also looking for a boost in its bid to host the under-17 World Cup in 2017 during Blatter’s trip on March 9.

“Blatter’s visit shows how much importance FIFA is giving to India,” All-India Football Federation (AIFF) vice-president Subrata Dutta said in a statement.

“The world body’s support in building the right kind of infrastructure in the country has been beyond our expectations.”

Four football academies supported by FIFA are being built in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi, Dutta said.

The sport is already extremely popular in some areas of India, particularly in the northeast and southern Kerala, but is viewed as having huge potential nation-wide despite the dominance of cricket.

English Premier League sides Liverpool and Manchester United have set up academies in India, and Blackburn Rovers were bought by Indian chicken farm firm Venky’s in 2010.

A new league in the eastern state of West Bengal is slated to start next month featuring semi-retired world stars like former Argentina star Hernan Crespo and Italy’s World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro.

Blatter last visted India in 2007 when he watched a match between two top domestic teams, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, in Kolkata.

In an interview to the British newspaper Telegraph last year, Blatter identified India as a potential World Cup host in 2026.

“If we have to identify new territories where football can be a better part of life then definitely it is the sub-continent, India, where they have 1.2 billion people,” Blatter was quoted as saying.

“This is really a double market, not just a market for football but for the economy too. India is a real power.”

The AIFF stressed India stood a good chance of hosting the under-17 World Cup in 2017 and it was working towards submitting a bid.

“If India becomes the host nation, we will get a direct entry into the tournament,” said Dutta. “It will encourage more kids to play football and take it up as a career option.

“It will also enable us to develop a quality structure for the sport.”

If the bid was won, the matches will be played in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, New Delhi and Guwahati, Datta said.