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SBD Global/August 29, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

New Indian Super League Launches; Eight Team Owners Unveiled

The Indian Super League, "the first of its kind" football league in India, was launched Thursday by team owners Sachin Tendulkar, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and brand ambassador Varun Dhawan, according to the PTI. The promoters of ISL, IMG-Reliance and Star India, "unveiled all eight team owners." The league's logo "was also unveiled during the ceremony." The inaugural season of the ISL "will be played" from Oct. 12-Dec. 20 in eight Indian cities. The ISL "promises to revolutionise the country's football scene like never before" but the All India Football Federation maintained that "its poorer and older cousin, I-League, continues to be the mainstay of the sport." AIFF President Praful Patel said at the logo launch, "This is the first tournament of this nature approved by FIFA" (PTI, 8/28). The AFP reported Tendulkar on Thursday "threw his weight" behind the upcoming ISL. Tendulkar said, "There is a lot of sporting talent in the country, but no platform to showcase the talent. Perhaps ISL is the answer." Tendulkar "is co-owner of the Kochi franchise." Tendulkar said, "My vision for India is sport for all. It is not about being professional but staying healthy and fit" (AFP, 8/28). INDIAN TELEVISION reported Star India COO Sanjay Gupta said, "This is the birth of a footballing nation. This is something that has never been attempted before and marks a historic turning point for the future of football in India." Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan "was declared as the new team owner of the Chennai franchise" (INDIAN TELEVISION, 8/28).

DEL PIERO SIGNS ON: The AFP reported Italian World Cup winner and former A-League club Sydney FC player Alessandro Del Piero was unveiled as the latest ISL marquee signing on Thursday. Reports said that the 39-year-old "had agreed to play for the Delhi Dynamos in the 10-week tournament." Although some top Indian players "have agreed to ISL deals, national captain Sunil Chhetri is among several internationals who have so far declined to join the league." Although the eight-month I-League has suspended matches during the ISL, several owners are opposed to the new tournament, saying that "it risks undermining grassroots football" (AFP, 8/28). ZEE NEWS reported "the latest to jump into the Indian bandwagon" is former EPL side West Bromwich Albion Manager Steve Clarke. The Scottish manager "expressed his desire to join the league." Talking about a possible move to India, he said, "It’s definitely something I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to and I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand" (ZEE NEWS, 8/28). FIRST POST's Pulasta Dhar wrote "What do you think?" was the "most common question journalist fired to journalist after the official launch." There was a common answer too: "Tamasha (theater)." Good tamasha or bad tamasha "is something that we will have to wait and see, but tamasha it is." And "why not?" In a country where cricket rules, "if another sport wants to steal the spotlight, it has to have an element of tamasha." To write off the ISL before it has begun "would be unfair." Yes, it does "promise a lot of things that we can look at sceptically: stadium renovations, top-class production value on television and mobile and development of grassroots football -- the last of which will be the toughest to achieve." But it has also kept most of its promises: "launching a league on a big scale with well-known players who were world class in their heyday" (FIRST POST, 8/28).

THE INSPIRATION: In Mumbai, Mergulhao & Kumar wrote the ISL "not only hopes to rekindle the country's love for football but also to motivate millions of youngsters to take to the beautiful game." As the IMG-Reliance League is set for launch, "the inspiration behind it," IMG-Reliance Chair Nita Ambani, spoke about her dreams for Indian football.

Q: Your interest and passion in sport may have started almost by default with the Mumbai Indians team. The Indian Super League takes it to a different level altogether.
Nita Ambani: Indeed. The Indian Super League is an initiative that aims to revolutionize football in our country. It's the beginning of a new journey and we hope to inspire and motivate millions of youth to play this beautiful game.

Q: It must have been a tough haul, putting something as big as this in place. What kind of hurdles did you face?
Ambani: Hurdles are only in our mind, isn't it? I look at the other side of the coin and only see abundant opportunities in every challenge.

Q: What is your vision for the game, for the future of football in India?
Ambani: We are a nation of billion-plus, but today most Indian fans, including my own two sons, only talk of EPL, La Liga or the Arsenals of the world. We are hoping to build a system to nurture talent and make our own national football heroes. There is no doubt in my mind on the immense potential India possesses. We have tried our best with our hearts. As the founding chairperson of Football Sports Development, my key area of focus would be on creating an eco-system for the grassroots programme on a national scale.

Q: How far are you, personally, and as a powerful conglomerate, going to go to make this a far out success?
Ambani: We need to look at both ends of the pyramid. Other than the marketability aspect of Indian football at the top, we equally felt the need to build the sport with a "bottoms-up approach," with a strong grassroots program. ... I would like to see millions of children just having fun with the ball. They should be able to run with the ball, dribble and just enjoy themselves. If we can introduce football to our little kids with an appropriate training curriculum, I think we will be heralding a new generation of footballers (TIMES OF INDIA, 8/28).
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