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Sunday, 15 April 2012

I-League: How to Move Forward

I’m going to keep this brief. This is only concerned with the top tier of Indian football…

1.       The IPL model followed by cricket is fatally flawed and is not the answer
2.       Elements of the IPL are however, part of the solution
a.       The focus on ‘entertainment’ stretching beyond just the sport and the match
b.      The focus on ‘glamour’ and ‘personality’ and ‘celebrity’ (India IS different)
c.       The need for modern consumer-friendly, family-oriented, stadia
3.       The English Premier League provides the most relevant model for a foundation
a.       The forming of an Association by the clubs is a positive step forward
b.      The clubs should own the I-League and take more control over their own destiny
c.       IMG & Reliance can be powerful, capable and important partners/enablers
4.       The I-League should consist of between 18 and 20 teams
5.       Existing teams should be invited to be part of the new I-League
6.       Key cities without an established I-League club – Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi etc – should be offered to tender
a.       Existing clubs can bid
b.       New corporate owners can bid
c.       The selection criteria to choose the winner will be the merit of the business plan and the quality of the management
d.      There would be no ‘franchises’ or franchise fees: the corporate owns the club (subject to fulfilling the promised investment and other commitments)
7.       Membership for ALL clubs should be conditional upon meeting a set of criteria within a given timeframe:
a.        Professional management and administration
b.        The introduction of community programs (to build support)
c.        The development of Academies
d.       The development of new purpose built, revenue generating stadiums
e.       Financial prudence (capital reserves, diversification of revenue streams, percentage of revenue expenditure on players)
8.       In the short-term, centralized support should be available to clubs across a broad range of areas
a.       IP, Marketing and Brand development and protection
b.       Development of supporter databases
c.       Development and diversification of revenue streams
9.       League TV and sponsorship rights should be sold centrally and shared on an equitable basis (similar to that in the EPL)
10.   There would be no relegation for an initial period of time (to protect and justify the investment required of clubs)
11.   The AIFF should be centrally concerned with grassroots development and the national teams

We need to move to a position in which we have a strong league, financially prudent, with modern infrastructure, and an exciting product pan-India. The only way investment can be justified is if it is done on a collective basis in which that investment is protected (from the threat of relegation) for an initial period

We need to look at tier 2 clubs with the potential for promotion, we need to look at the roles and revenue streams of the regional FA’s and the AIFF, and we need to develop a proper pyramid system but I don’t want to address these issues here and now

Comments invited and welcome 

Friday, 3 February 2012


When Reliance partnered IMG, and when IMG-R acquired the marketing rights owned by the AIFF I felt genuine hope for Indian football. The games governing body here had joined forces with the world’s top sports management company and one of India’s most successful and aggressive corporate giants. What could go wrong?

Now, two years or so down the line, there are rumors of discontent and discord between Reliance and IMG, and of a lack of understanding, leadership and vision. Whether this is fair and accurate or not, as the IFA and CMG launch PLS amid much genuine excitement that reaches far beyond West Bengal, most of India is left wondering what happened to the rest of us. Why has nothing changed?  Everywhere else in India seems to have become immersed in a vacuum of nothingness.

The problem that seems to have floored IMG-R and the AIFF is how to square the circle of established I-League clubs and a franchise structure. You could throw in the issue of no adequate infrastructure and mix it with an already overcrowded calendar and you can easily become submerged with the idea that the whole structure and history of football in India defeats any possibility of meaningful change. ‘What to do?’ would seem an appropriate tag line.

The PLS is a gamechanger. Its long-term future is uncertain as of now, however it’s already changed the landscape of football in India forever. CMG wanted Lionel Messi playing in Kolkata so they brought over Argentina and Venezuela as the cannon fodder. IMG-R and the AIFF responded defensively by making it problematic to host a match in India between two foreign teams. The consequence was that FC Bayern played against an AIFF ‘India XI’. The PLS has brought a similarly defensive response: reluctant tolerance mixed with doubts about the concept and viability, and vague assurances as to their own project, still in the planning. PLS pressures IMG-R and the AIFF to deliver something more meaningful…something in fact.   

The IFA has always been symbolic of the challenges facing would-be Indian football revolutionaries. A powerful self-focused State Association that saw itself and its competitions as more relevant and important than the national league. For many Bengali’s it was more important to win the Kolkata Super League than be champions of India. To some extent Kolkata and the IFA have been pushed towards this thinking by the way that football dominates there in a way that most of the rest of India hasn’t (so far) replicated. Now they’ve done it again by launching their own self-contained Premier League for soccer.

In finding a way forward for India as a whole the challenge for IMG-R and the AIFF is to find a formula that takes the realities as they are, and create a structure that allows corporate investment and addresses the weakness of the infrastructure. There is an appetite for corporate investment in to football, providing the structure and vision is right. There is an enthusiasm among the new generation of football fanatics – and sports fans more generally – for an exciting, glamorous and star-studded football format. All the ingredients are there for IMG-R and the AIFF to create a real gamechanger of their own at a pan-India level. Without this PLS is a ticking bomb.    

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Reflections on Life and Death

Yesterday someone I knew jumped to his death. He was a friend in so far as we would spend time talking whenever we met, which, living in the same place for some time, was reasonably regular if not frequent. He was only young, successful in his career, seemed happy, a nice guy always ready to help. He never betrayed any need or inner sadness. He was quiet, kept himself to himself, and was supremely fit. His death, and the manner of it, came as a huge shock and he will be missed

Sometimes the challenges of life sweep over us like a tidal wave, at other times the pressures can be relentless. When you live in a high-rise flat escape is ever present, just an open window and a footstep away. In seconds the pain that is drowning you is no more. The tragedy is that most things in life are temporary. Pain – emotional, spiritual, physical – often eases with time, it ebbs away, or we change the way we perceive it so that it no longer becomes the all-consuming darkness in to which we can sink. The challenge will change, will go, the sun will rise, the clouds will clear, but step through the open window and all is lost, forever, there is no chance of coming back 

In a city like Mumbai death seems incidental – it happens all the time, life goes on. I saw an accident, a year or so ago, in which an auto-rickshaw overturned on a busy road in Juhu. Half a dozen men carried a young guy, who was clearly seriously injured, to the side of the road – some took an arm each, others a foot, and as he was lifted I saw his eyes roll upwards. Even as he was dying there were cars trying to edge past, impatient, insulated, not oblivious but anaesthetized from the reality before them. When I returned a couple of hours later it was impossible to see any sign of what had happened earlier. Life carried on, all was back to normal

For those who lose a loved one, patience and understanding are often short-lived. There is still work to attend, the routines of living that need to be followed. Life goes on but when you’ve lost someone you love, who was central to your life, the pain endures and while it may ease with time, it takes time, and a longer time than most people would extend. There’s an expectation of recovery within an unrealistically short space of weeks and months. If the death is tragic or unexpected, and, or, involves a partner or a child, then the time it takes extends perhaps for a lifetime

Mumbai is a high pressure environment. Competition is intense. Working hours are very long. It’s not easy to find space or time for yourself or for those you love or who are important to you. Children are forced in to this climate of relentless competition and expectation from an early age and too often pushed towards careers that are in a different direction to where their true ability and passion lies. It's no wonder that so many young kids kill themselves and then their parents are left with a lifetime of regret

As I go through life I try to be aware of what’s going on around me, not to take people for granted, to be open and conscious of not just what people are saying but what they’re not saying but trying to tell me. I don’t always achieve it but I try to be compassionate and understanding. It’s easy to make assumptions about other people’s lives but the reality is we just don’t know. At the beginning of a new year can I just ask that we all try and judge a little less, understand a little more, and support each other a little better