The current signs are that the competition is finally, even if belatedly, taking a much more professional approach.
The Indian football scene, over the past four years or so has been defined by the Indian Super League (ISL). Ever since it’s bow in 2014 under the banner of IMG-R, Reliance and Star, the league has served itself as the perfect counterpart to the Indian Premier League (IPL). With a concoction of glamour, glitz and football, it aimed to capture the audience’s imagination like never before and re-build the image of the Beautiful Game across the country. The efforts, immense as they were, sadly fell short soon after.
In a bid to grab more eyeballs, the organizers have always spent millions on outlandish opening ceremonies. From having India’s biggest import to Hollywood in recent years, Priyanka Chopra to Bollywood stars of the stature of Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, many have adorned these glitzy galas. The perplexing part of the entire story is none of these stars have absolutely any affiliation to the sport itself.
Usually viewed as nothing more than a chariot for self-promotion, these celebrities usually had only one purpose during the ceremony: to promote their next release, be it for the big or small screen. Not only did they look out of place because such shenanigans deserve their place in TV award shows and not in a serious footballing competition, but they also confused the audience as to what was the purpose of a tournament going by the tagline “Future Hain Football.”
Moreover, this was not just limited to individuals but also cost millions of dollars to the taxpayers whose money was used to make world-class stadiums and pitches on which these events were usually held. Take for example, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium debacle from last year. The preparation of the charade in Kochi damaged the turf of the stadium and caused immense disturbance in the regular operations, as this was a place designed to host football matches and not gala events like these.
The ISL, it seems, has finally taken note of it. As of this season, they have decided to do away with the opening ceremony and the pointless extravaganza. This might be disturbing for a casual football fan, but such a step will not only rope in more viewers but will also prove beneficial for the sustenance of the league in the long run.
In an effort to ensure the existence of the ISL as the top division in India ahead of the I-League, the FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) have taken many steps to appease both the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). However, it was high time that they took a look at themselves before placating the authorities and that is what they has finally done. The current signs are that the league is finally, even if belatedly, taking a much more professional approach.
With a quota of 10 teams and a timespan of five months, the organizers have done away with the attention-seeking two-month format. Also, with Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan most likely to join in from next season, it was of colossal importance that the image of the league be changed from that showbiz to the first division event of one of the world’s most potent football markets i.e India.
The quality of football on show, the grassroots programs, international exposure tours and world-class infrastructure development are some of the other things that need to be taken care of now, but it seems that one can expect such steps to follow hereafter. Short term gains have to weeded out and long-term presence has to be given maximum priority. To that end, the decision of scrapping the opening ceremony is a commendable and sensible one.