Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has said that Indian football is on a steady rise and the popularity of the Indian Super League is a testament to that. The 50-year-old also feels that the growing popularity of the game in the country just ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 comes as a major positive sign.
The Indian Super League (ISL), which started in 2014, became a blockbuster among Indian as well as international football fans. The pros and cons of the ISL may still be an ongoing topic, but the fact that the tournament was lapped so much by one and all has given a major boost to the image of Indian football.
"As the world's second most populous nation, India certainly has much to contribute to the beautiful game. The success of the Indian Super League has given a clear indication of the potential the country has," Sheikh Salman said in an exclusive interview with the Times of India. "With the upcoming AFC U-16 Championship and the Fifa U-17 World Cup 2017, as well as the AFC Extraordinary Congress in September, India is sure to stay in the global football spotlight.
"Football in India has certainly been progressing steadily in recent years. We are confident that India will host a successful 2017 Fifa U-17 World Cup and the event will serve as a catalyst for the growth of the game in the country," the AFC president, who lost to Gianni Infantino in the FIFA presidential election 2016, added.
Sheikh Salman has also praised the All India Football Federation (AIFF), saying that the Indian football governing body are taking every step to strengthening the fanbase for the sport in India. The proposed Indian football calendar by the AIFF, making ISL the top tier and making the I-League the second tier, recently received a lot of mixed reactions.
However, the AFC president feels that the AIFF are on the right step.
"The success of the previous two ISL editions showcased the growing popularity of the game in India," Sheikh Salman continued. "I am confident that the knowledge and experience gained from the competition, together with continuous engagement with key stakeholders, will help the AIFF create a strong fan base for Indian domestic football and, ultimately, strengthen the national team in the future."