Indian Football has been on the upward trajectory for the past few years. After the golden era of the 1950s and 60s, Indian Football saw a steady decline in the 70s till the end of the century. Early 2000s saw much improvement in Indian Football with the team performing well in 2002 World Cup qualifiers and Afro Asian Games. The team’s stellar performance against Zimbabwe, a team which was ranked 85 places above India, is the one for everyone to remember.
Later under coach Bob Houghton, Indian Football went on to make a remarkable improvement. However, these improvements were mere short term gains. To be a footballing superpower, no country can afford to ignore the development at the grassroots level.
The return of Stephen Constatine as the head coach saw a drastic improvement in the team’s ranking, fitness level and style of play. Constatine in his second stint opted to work for long term gains rather than short term achievements.
AIFF, the governing body of football in the country, realised the need to build a solid grassroots level base. This saw the introduction of Baby Leagues. Baby Leagues are just what the doctor ordered for the Indian Football. These leagues are organised in seven age groups of Under-6, Under-7, Under-8, Under-9, Under-10, Under-11 and Under-12.
Launched in September last year, Baby Leagues have been a hit in large parts of the country including the states of Mizoram, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. States like Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Punjab are also catching up with the trend.
Right from the militancy hit Kashmir valley to the remote corner of Northeast, ‘Baby Leagues’ are being organised across various parts of India with the AIFF’s backing. This move will definitely help in catching young raw talent at the nascent stage and lay the foundation for a bright future.
The number of registered teams was 5,335 last year while 21,130 matches were played in all. This year, the AIFF decided to rename it ‘Golden Baby League’ and the first edition was held in Meghalaya recently.
🗣 Arki Nongrum, CEO, MFA: "Meghalaya Baby 👶🏻 League will run for a good 6⃣ months and we're expecting 5⃣0⃣0⃣0⃣ children to participate." 🙌🏻👍🏻#IndianFootball ⚽ #GoldenBabyLeague 💛 pic.twitter.com/ZpEZo728fP
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) August 12, 2019
Last year, the AIFF gave a subsidy of Rs 85,000 each to Baby Leagues of 99 age groups run by 30 license holders, from the $250,000 fund sanctioned by FIFA under its Forward Programme.
According to AIFF, last year the number of children participated was 21,471 and it rose to 43,575 this year.
AIFF Technical Director Isac Doru told PTI, “We need to create a competitive environment in which the players are developing their creativity, self-expression, passion of the game and discovering the value of friendship throughout the team. That was the idea of these Baby Leagues,”
AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said, “The formative years of a child have always been the bedrock of a successful footballing culture. The AIFF is now stressing to popularise the sport among the kids. We aim to have every kid playing football, especially from ages U-6 to U-12. The more they play, the more Indian football will benefit.”
Last year, a total of 15 Baby Leagues were conducted in the Kashmir valley with kids of under-11 participating in the game.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) August 8, 2019
There is a need to change the mentality and culture of Indian sports that has long been dominated by cricket. However, there is no doubt that there is large pool of talent in India, which needs to be nurtured in a proper way. With the introduction of Baby Leagues, the future of Indian Football looks bright.