The national team may be struggling to get funds to play in the Asian Games next month but Indian football found itself in 'glitzy hands' on Thursday. The Indian Super League - a tournament which promises to change the face of the sport in the country - was launched in a star-studded ceremony in Mumbai amid much fanfare. With legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan, corporate honchos and several All Indian Football Federation officials in attendance, the risk of the national team facing a cash-crunch appeared a distant blemish under the flashy spotlights. (Read: Sachin's ISL team signs Michael Chopra)
Scheduled to start from October 12, ISL was officially launched by Nita Ambani in the presence of Tendulkar and other co-owners of the eight franchises from around the country. "The Indian Super League is an initiative that aims to revolutionise football in our country," Nita Ambani said on the occasion. "It's the beginning of a new journey and we hope to inspire and motivate millions of youth to play this beautiful game." The Ambanis' owned IMG-Reliance group will run the ambitious tournament.
Tendulkar, who co-owns a team called Kerala Blasters in the league, hailed the initiative as well. "Sports teaches you to get back on your feet and compete in the right spirit," he said. "We will compete hard but will continue to be friends off the field." (Related: ISL unveils player draft for international stars)
Taking a cue from Indian Premier League and United States' Major League Soccer, ISL will bring together foreign stars with Indian players in what promises to be a gala event. Ironically though, while league football in the country has received a major shot in the arm through ISL, it may be a completely different 'ball game' in the international arena.
After losing the second and last of its friendlies to rivals Pakistan recently, the national team is at the risk of depending solely on AIFF funding for Asian Games - scheduled to be held between September 9 and October 4.
"The talks are at a very preliminary stage. We can't take an arbitrary decision and there will be meetings," Jiji Thomson, the director general of the Sports Authority of India, was quoted as saying earlier this week. (Full report here)
India, twice Asian Games champions in 1951 and 1962, are ranked 150th in the world and will find it tough to advance in Incheon, where they are in Group G with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.