The World Football Forum 2017 was hosted in the Chinese city of Changsha from May 18 to 20 which featured the hot football topics of our times besides the host country China, next years 2018 FIFA World Cup hosts Russia and this years 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup hosts India.
The India session has myself, Arunava Chaudhuri, as an Indian football expert as the moderator and it featured Subrata Dutta (Vice President, All-India Football Federation & Indian Football Association (West Bengal) president); Sunando Dhar (CEO, I-League); and Baljit Rihal (CEO, Inventive Sports).
The organisers brief about the session said, “The FIFA U17 World Cup host nation continues its rapid rise in the world football community. We hear from clubs, players and the leaders who are shaping the sport in South Asia.”
After last year in Paris in which India was featured, it was the second year in a row that our football was featured infront of an international audience at the World Football Forum.
At the start it was a general introduction of where Indian football today stands with a focus on the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup which according to the whole panel could have a lasting effect on the growth of Indian football with the general interest in the sport growing and success of the India Under-17s would aid in that.
Further the great story of Aizawl FC winning the I-League was discussed as it is a bigger surprise or upset than Leicester City winning the English Premier League last season, then Aizawl FC were lucky that a number of circumstances worked their way like traditional Goan clubs pulling out and their relegation being pulled back, their new coach Khalid Jamil and the new players who came in making it all work besides all the fan passion.
Mizoram was mentioned as a positive example from India of grassroots, youth development, creation of a local league in the Mizoram Premier League besides the necessary infrastructure.
But after all these positive aspects came the difficult topic of the merger of the Indian Super League and I-League. After the panel it became evident that the international audience did not understand why India had two leagues or one league and another tournament with two sets of teams, which the federation and their marketing partners wanted to merge but could not at the moment due to different thinking and interpretations of a merger. No solution could be presented at the time.
The session lasted over an over and to me was insightful for an audience which mainly had limited Indian football knowledge despite having people there, who very well knew what is currently happening in India and football.