To strengthen roots, Khelo India plans talent scouting with football federation

Indian football team icon Sunil Chhetri, who turned 36 on Monday, lauded the initiatives announced by sports minister Kiren Rijiju, calling it the ‘perfect birthday gift’.

By Utathya Nag

In what is a shot in the arm for grassroots development in Indian football, sports minister Kiren Rijiju announced that the government is keen on setting up a pan-India scouting initiative under the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Khelo India scheme.

Under the plan, zonal level scouting committees will be set up to scour the country and identify promising talents, aged 12 or under.

“This plan would be implemented in close cooperation with AIFF (All India Football Federation) and focus on how we can further strengthen Grassroots football,” Kiren Rijiju said during an e-summit organized by Football Delhi on Monday.

The sports minister also promised a major focus on organising Golden Baby Leagues – football tournaments for children aged six to 12 – across India to secure the future of Indian football from the ground up.

“Football culture is necessary to make India a world superpower,” Kiren Rijiju reasoned.

Sunil Chhetri hails initiative

Indian men's football team captain Sunil Chhetri, who turned 36 on Monday, lauded Kiren Rijiju’s announcement, terming it ‘the perfect birthday gift’.

“Sports minister Kiren Rijiju made a commitment to locate every football talent in India and if every talent is identified and nurtured, then half of the problem of Indian football is solved.

“Talent is not the problem here. We could have plenty of Olympic gold medals. It is very important to give the young talented players the right food, training. When all this is done, it can be a monumental growth,” Sunil Chhetri said during the session.

Delhi in focus

One of the overarching themes for the e-Summit was laying the groundwork for a sustained plan to develop the national capital of Delhi as a hub for Indian football on the lines of the traditional footballing nurseries like Bengal, Goa, the Northeast, and Kerala.

Delhi holds an important place in Indian football history, with Indian football team winning its first major international tournament – the 1951 Asian Games – there.

“Delhi has the potential to grow as a football city like any other global football city,” Asian Football Confederation (AFC) secretary general Dato Windsor John noted.

With I-League champions Mohun Bagan merging with ATK to shift to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) as ATK Mohun Bagan, it was also hinted that the vacated I-League spot may go to a club from Delhi with an announcement possible as early as next week.

Delhi had two of India’s most prestigious football tournaments -- Durand Cup and the DCM. Both have lost their lustre due to a plethora of reasons, funds being one of them. There are fresh plans to revive Delhi’s football legacy.