Indian football is priming itself to be the next business destination for investors in sports. Echoing a recent sentiment that sporting life should be more than just cricket, a senior official of the Asian Football Confederation said foreign takeover of Indian soccer clubs was a distinct possibility.
At a meeting between Indian companies and world football’s senior officials here, Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam said overseas investors are interested in acquiring football teams. Hamman conceded he wasn’t familiar with takeover laws in India. But “they are serious investors and willing to come to India,” he said about the overseas financiers who he did not identify. “Will Indian investors put in their money?”
They could. Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) vice-president Sunil Mittal promised he’d have an announcement soon relating to private sponsorship of the sport but wouldn’t offer details ahead of a press conference scheduled for today.
The buzz around the sport marks this week’s visit by Joseph Sepp Blatter, president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
“We are in the cusp of converting India from a cricketing nation to a sporting nation,” said Mittal, group chairman and managing director of diversified conglomerate Bharti Enterprises. “We assure you corporate India will participate whole-heartedly in the development of football.”
Other companies, too, have announced efforts to support the growth of football in India. On Sunday, 15 April, Adidas India launched the Adidas Youth Football League in Goa for children, some as young as five.
Currently, there is no professional soccer in India. Football enthusiasts turn to clubs, which run on membership fees. Some of the better-playing clubs have found corporate sponsors such as Kolkata’s United Breweries Ltd and Reliance-Anil Ambani Dhirubhai Group. Some clubs make as much as Rs3.5 crore annually. In return, the clubs take names such as Kingfisher East Bengal or Chirag United, named after R.P. Infosystems Ltd’s Chirag computers.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) wants clubs to turn professional with academies for kids, multi-gym facilities and sports doctors. Asked how many clubs fit this bill, AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco said “It would be a long process” to get there.
Blatter made no secret of FIFA’s preference for corporate involvement in football. “You can put your brand and logo in marketplace through us, and you compensate us,” he offered.