Set down in virtually any country in Europe and you’ll invariably find a slew of football teams and a passion that runs deep into the core of its sporting community. However, fly beyond the borders of Europe and you’ll quickly find that this love for football isn’t quite as feverish.
Of course, it’s hard to ignore South America’s passion for the game; however, when you head into countries such as India, the sport is forced to take a backseat to the likes of cricket. Well, that’s the case for now, but if John Abraham has anything to do with it then things might not stay that way for much longer.
Bollywood Backing Football
In a recent article by the Guardian, Abraham outlined his vision for football in India and how he believes it can become a viable alternative to cricket. For many years now, football insiders have looked to India as the “final frontier” and one that could unlock a wealth of opportunities for fans, players and investors.
Last October Abraham, who is also a model and one of Bollywood’s leading actors, was part of a group that helped organise and, subsequently, witnessed the birth of the Indian Super League (ISL). Heralded as the greatest sporting innovation in India over the last 20 years, the ISL launched under a banner of optimism and, largely, the new league delivered on much of its promise.
Indeed, the opening game in Kolkata drew a crowd of 65,120 spectators and throughout the season the average attendance for games reached 26,030. That figure alone was enough to make it the fourth best attended football league in the world and, when combined with TV audiences of 426 million, it showed there’s a huge amount of footballing potential in India.
A Viable Alternative to Cricket
by pabak sarkar
Over the last few years it’s become clear to many Indians that there is a need for a second sport within the country and, according to recent stats, many of younger members of the community are now heavily into football. This fact, combined with the projection that India will be the fifth-largest economy in the world by 2020, makes the market a veritable goldmine for football.
In fact, aside from offering a wealth of new games to watch, a flourishing league in India would provide a host of ancillary opportunities for football fans. There has been a long tradition of ageing footballers ending their careers in emerging leagues and that could mean the ISL becomes a stage for some departing talent. As well as providing an entertaining spectacle for Indian fans, a wave of football legends playing in the ISL should give international fans something to get excited about.
Moreover, as Indians become heavily invested in football, it should greatly increase the amount of interest and, therefore, money in the game at all levels. Although the ISL will be the catalyst for Indian interest in football, it will gradually become absorbed into the matrix of the sport and that means Indians will gradually expand their horizons and check out many other leagues across the world.
Benefits Beyond the Pitch
As this interest grows, every facet of the industry will show signs of improvement. Indeed, areas such as football betting could benefit greatly from the growth of football in India. More games plus more supporters equals more options for online bookmakers such as Betfair and, therefore, more ways for punters to back their favourite teams metaphorically and financially.
Of course, none of this will be possible, however, without a major push from the likes of Abraham. Although the inaugural season was a huge success, it only lasted for ten weeks and if the game is really going to become ingrained in Indian culture then a lot more work has to be done. Fortunately, many of the country’s leading sporting stars, including many from the world of cricket, have invested both time and money into developing the ISL.
Time and Investment Crucial
As more high profile figures throw their weight behind the league, there’s no doubt it will grow. However, for many, the real key to its success is an alliance with the Premier League. Many clubs, such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, all have a footing within the public consciousness. If executives are able to harness these links and create business partnerships with some of the Premier League’s top teams, it would not only help the flow of talent from one country to the other, but create a greater hook for young fans.
Although football still has a long way to go before it can be considered a true alternative to cricket in India, there’s no doubt that huge strides have been made over the last few years. Thanks to the work carried out by the likes of Abraham, the ISL proved it can draw crowds and, if this initial popularity can be parlayed into something greater, then it could benefit the game in all parts of the world.