Football is set join in the University sports bandwagon in India. With the likes of NDTV's Toyota University Cricket Championship set to start in a week, football too will soon see a professional-style University Football League, thanks to efforts of former India national captain Baichung Bhutia.
The Baichung Bhutia Football Schools tied up with Nirmal Lifestyle to introduce the concept of university football. The league was launched by Bhutia and Dharmesh Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nirmal Lifestyle in Mumbai on Friday.
"Football as a game needs to be popularised across the country on a larger scale with better development and infrastructure. We are hoping to ensure that more people can take up playing the sport at a professional level," Bhutia told NDTV.
Speaking to NDTV, Mr. Jain says, "A game like football needs to be promoted and supported in the country as sports is a way of life. Sports teaches you to be a leader, team member, win and lose with a smile. India is the 10th largest in football fan base, ahead of the likes of France and Argentina. It is very easy for a person to sit on a couch and watch the game but when it comes to supporting the youngsters to get into sports, people do not show positive energy."
Bhutia, who is collaborating with Nirmal Lifestyle for this league, has been honoured with the Indian player of the year in 1995 and 2008. He has also been awarded the Padma Shri as well. Baichung adds, "India has got the talent and needs a better structure. We need clubs in India to promote football. This would play a major role in developing players."
The University Football League is a first-of-its-kind league which will not only provide a platform to young talented footballers to showcase their skills, but also provide a career path to the best players. "This university league will be modeled with the prevailing international university sports league like in USA, UK, says Baichung Bhutia.
Sixteen colleges and universities from every city will take part in a league in a knockout style tournament. Two teams from every city will then progress towards another round of football to determine the winner.
The prize money for the winners is Rs. 10 lakh. The runners-up will take home Rs. 5 lakh. The total prize money will be around Rs. 20 lakh.
Reminiscing his days as a struggling sportsperson, the once poster boy of Indian football says that he was lucky to get into professional football in school. "There were players who were very good in school but still did not get a chance to break into the professional circuit. Schools and colleges in the counrty do not have the kind of infrastructure to promote talent," he said.
When asked by NDTV on how students balance their studies and sports, Bhutia said that it is possible if one wants it to happen.
While the organisers introduced the University Football League (UFL) to make football the next big sport in India and one his hoping that it will make the beautiful game more popular and take it to the next level in this country.