New Delhi, June 22: India and China might be having a close competition in other realms of life, but the two Asian neighbours are following a similar path when it comes to football.
After the Chinese have embarked on a multi-billion dollar mission to become a football superpower by 2050, India, too, has decided to follow suit to raise its status as a football-playing nation, which is so low today that even a patriotic prime minister like Narendra Modi feels "reluctant" to mention it, according to a Reuters report.
Modi lamented India's steady decline in the football world over the years (it is currently ranked 163 by Fifa) during a recent weekly radio talk programme.
In October, India, which was described as football's sleeping giant by former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, will see the launching of a programme to engage over 11 million children in football-related activities, said the report.
Though the country's football federation (All India Football Federation) has not revealed details of the Fifa-backed programme, a government statement, howeve, has said that "Mission 11 Million" will be started in around 30 cities across the country.
The states have also been asked to promote football in a pattern similar to that in China. India will host the U-17 World Cup next year.
India's football feats last came in 1950s and 1960s
India's rich hauls in football came way back in the 1950s and 1960s when it won gold in the Asian Games twice, finished as the runners-up in Asian Cup once and also finished fourth in the Olympic football once. It also came very close to playing the Fifa World Cup in 1950 but could not because of technical reasons.
China rank 81 now and have also played in a World Cup
The Chinese, on the other hand, are ranked 81 at the moment and also played the 2002 edition of the Fifa World Cup. However, they have not won any international tournaments ever and finished runners up in the Asian Games twice.
The AIFF, which is looking to engage as much talent as possible from the country's huge population, it is also eyeing talents from the Indian disapora, the Reuters report said."The idea is to increase the talent pool," Reuters quoted former India captain and head of the scouting programme Abhishek Yadav as saying.
Under the programme, anyone aged under 16 and holding an Indian passport, can post a two-minute video from a competitive match on a soon-to-be-launched portal.
But are there enough infrastructure?
However, experts have raised question over the infrastructure available to cater to such a huge pool of young talents. Are there enough coaches and pitches, they have asked.