Will the football World Cup trigger a wave of sports entrepreneurs and success stories in India?
The football World Cup in Brazil has had many of us in India stay up late, really late at the risk of getting caught napping at offices and in Parliament just to watch the beautiful game's signature event.
Despite the absence of an Indian team, it didn't stop Indians from passionately supporting an adopted team, or adopting newer ones as the tournament progressed. Today many of us seem either jubilant fans of Germany or distraught supporters of Messi and Argentina.
Ardent support for football teams isn't a new phenomenon here in India. Thanks to our keen interest in the sport, an entire ecosystem around famous European league teams has been built -- right from setting up of academies and fan clubs to the sale of merchandise and regular commentary around the game, and there seems to be more coming. There is something about sports, and football in particular, that makes one follow a team year-on-year for a 10-month period with the hope of seeing one of them lift the domestic league title.
These observations bring about two qualities in an average Indian football enthusiast -- passion and perseverance. These are also values we as entrepreneurs hear often, and one that has helped many succeed over the years. Let's take a look at two offbeat Indian football stories that reflect these characteristics:
Passion for football brings Sameer back to life & home to Kashmir
After having returned to India from England, Sameer Qayoom went on to pursue his high schooling and later a bachelor's degree in computer engineering at BITS Pilani. Always a keen follower of the game, Sameer was quite talented in the sport and represented Jammu and Kashmir in three national events. He realized what the state's football fraternity needed was infrastructure support and encouragement of local footballers. This made him leave his cushy IT consulting job in Delhi and return home to promote the game wholeheartedly.
His journey began by reaching out to the many football enthusiasts in the state and together with the Jammu Kashmir Football Association (JKFA) helped organize one of its largest tournaments. Through his efforts in 2013, the Kashmir Football Festival (KFF) managed to bring together several teams and players, and giving them a swanky floodlit ground in Srinagar to showcase their talents. Since the initial success, he has helped organize many more tournaments, the latest with participation of over 2000 players and close to 200 teams from across the state.
This platform has enabled many youngsters from the state express themselves on the football field, a commendable effort from a region that has witnessed years of conflict. The tournament is now becoming a regular feature for football enthusiasts from across the state, and many are eagerly waiting for the next tournament, to be held sometime this September-October.
Though Sameer may not have been able to realize his dream of playing at the highest level, through his passion and hard work, he hopes to enable a host of youngsters from the state realize their dream of someday playing the sport professionally.
The journey to raising the Indian flag at the World Cup in Brazil
This is the story of 'Dream A Dream' that came true. A group led by Ashoka Fellow Vishal Talreja, who along with his passionate Bangalore-based team of change-makers, has been empowering young people from vulnerable backgrounds for over a decade now.
Dream A Dream’s (DAD) life-skills program, propagated mainly through sports and arts, has helped many youngsters from difficult circumstances graduate and face life's challenges confidently. Having had the opportunity to work with the football program inception team in 2010, I realized an initiative like this also came with a host of other challenges -- from scouting for grounds and motivating volunteers to finding sponsors and partners, as well as developing an apt life-skills curriculum around football.
Unfazed by these challenges, the team persevered through the difficult days and found ways to develop a tailor-made life-skills curriculum for the program. The organization has had many a milestone, the most recent being its football program participants representing India at the 'Football for Hope' festival during the World Cup in Brazil.
This rare opportunity enabled some of these youngsters play the game hard, along with making a lot of friends in Brazil and with the football fraternity from around the world. A life-changing opportunity for many of these children, which if not for the perseverance of the team at Dream A Dream, might never have been realized.
Today with football in mind, initiatives like the above deserve credit for galvanizing youngsters and developing them through this medium of sports. Such efforts along with the big-ticket forays like the launch of the star-studded Indian Super League (ISL) and India turning host for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, augers well for the promotion of the sport. Thanks to the community’s increasing support, India's football story has now been put on a pedestal and it is up to us players and supporters, to go for glory.