India last played a world level international tournament way back in 1960 in the Olympic games, which was also considered as a big stage to exhibit the footballing capability of a country. India could not repeat the incredible performance of the 1956 version of the game, where they finished in 4th position. India was out in the first round itself and finished 13th in what was the last Olympic football appearance for India. India has been absent from all the World Cups, and the country did not even manage to make a single appearance on any age group World Cup tournament on offer too. Things took a surprise turn for Indian Football’s fortune in a period of 3 years with Indian Super League a grand success, while the national team also surged up the rankings. In the mean time, India getting to host the U-17 World Cup this year was nothing less than an icing on the cake. The current U-17 squad would be the first bunch of players to represent the country of 130 billion in a Football World Cup. To add more on the offering, then Sports Minister Vijay Goel along with AIFF chief Praful Patel started a campaign Mission XI Million on February 10, the objective being to take football to the aforesaid number of kids and bring in a football revolution in the country before the gala U-17 World Cup commences in October this year.
The Reality of MXIM
The Mission XI Million has been widely promoted across the length and breadth of the nation, with regular updates surrounding the same posted on the social media platforms by the AIFF. Branded as a mission, appreciated by the Prime Minister himself has if not the ground, taking social media by storm with the MXIM Facebook page itself garnering near about 60000 likes. The Mission which is considered as a big success on Social Media might just need to dip into the reality.
India’s leading national daily, The Hindustan Times in its article has dug out the status of the mission. In a report which mainly focuses on the National capital, wide differences between the real life and on paper data were found. Huge differences in the number of students attending the workshop and those in the school itself are subject to speculation. The footballing facilities available is another topic of contemplation. An excerpt from the report reads,
“HT visited the institution’s branch located at Canning Road, which has 1,400 students. The school has no playground and has sub-standard facilities for sports. The only teacher from the school, who had attended a MXIM workshop, was asked to fill in details about the school, including its total strength. He had been given a football at the event, the only equipment the school has received so far.”
The reports from the famous media house also suggest that on some instances, the kids were not even the one to have attended the program. Instead, the Physical Education teachers were asked to carry forward the training to their school of what they learned during the workshop. Another piece states,
“A teacher from the school had attended the workshop, but school authorities weren’t aware of 1,200 of its students being covered under the MXIM program. The school has a small cemented ground, and volleyball and basketball courts which are in a shoddy state. A teacher informed HT that because of the cemented ground and the lack of playing space, promoting football isn’t easy.”
The objective of the famous Mission was itself questioned by a contrasting statement by a Principal of a school itself. What he understands of the mission is, “The workshop was about (spreading) awareness, nothing much. The main emphasis was to spread a message that football is easy to introduce in (a) school, whether there is a standard field or not.” The mission according to him is more of a classroom activity rather than something where the field needs to be engaged in the proceedings.
The contrasting claims
The head of Local Organising Committee (LOC) U-17 World Cup, Joy Bhattacharjya in a statement said to The Hindustan Times said, “We actually work with the KV Sangathan and Department of Education (to verify the numbers). It takes a bit of time to work with the numbers because once the numbers come in, we tally them back with the schools. If the school is affiliated to a state board, we check back with the state board.” He stated that they did not have a database of the students who were part of the Mission.
While in an interview with the Asian Age he said in April, “We have this huge database of students and schools, we make sure that the data is compliant with what these people have, with what the AIFF has. We make sure that all this data goes to them.”
The reach according to data
According to Joy Bhattacharjya, the Mission was inching closer towards the target, and it may take the figures over the objective, making it a success before India’s debut in the World Cup. The target of 11 million is being reached through school, while another 80000-90000 engaged through camps and festivals.
Joy Bhattacharjya further said that each school had been provided with two footballs and manuals which include training drill and 3 vs 3 and 4 vs 4 games to get over the constraint of space.
The budget also leaves a question mark on the Mission as Joy Bhattacharjya said to The Hindustan Times, “Rs. 30 crore is the budget. Thirty crore is a ridiculous figure for reaching 11 million children,” before adding, “In effect, it’s less than the amount that was sanctioned. Finally, it’s about Rs. 12.55 crore (that the government is spending). We are spending about Rs. 25 crores on the project. (The contribution of the government and the AIFF on the project) is exactly 50-50.” How can one expect that the Mission with this budget gets the game to the heart of every kid, given the time period and the geographical reach of the project. Bhattacharjya also pointed out that it was difficult to supervise a Mission of this scale with the World Cup looming over the head.
Is Mission XI Million a magic wand?
If one honestly answers the question, it would be a big NO. The Mission focuses on a day of football for the kids, rather than giving them a reason to follow the game. The day the mission reaches a particular school, Football becomes important, while on the next day there is a huge possibility of the game not even being played. The question is how can a day of football inspire kids to take up the game, given that they are subject to cricket all other days in a year as it dominates other sports in our country. As The Hindustan Times says, The fact that there is no long-term plan to support this short-term idea, and that it essentially expects schools to magically start promoting football with almost non-existent infrastructural support (barring two footballs) and minimal technical guidance.
One can not simply deny the fact that football is on a rise in India, but the real question is that if we can capitalize on the wonderful platform being laid? Probably we should. The Government and the AIFF are expected to come with some solid long-term plan for the development of this beautiful game, the infrastructural development holding the key. Get Indian Football something big, that paves the way for the World Cup dream coming to reality, a day hopefully not too far away.
“The road is long, but the belief is everything, stand up for Indian Football”