Dr Manohar Singh Gill, the Indian Minister for Youth and Sport, travelled to Zurich on Thursday to discuss the progress football is making in his country with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Afterwards, the 72-year-old sports lover and football fan, who has been involved in the national political scene since the 1960s, told FIFA.com about the enormous potential of the Indian game.
Mr Gill, could you please tell us the reason for your trip to FIFA headquarters?
I was in Hungary for a meeting with the Hungarian Minister for Sport and Youth Sports and I decided to travel on to Zurich to meet Mr Blatter. As well as discussing sport in general and football in particular, we spoke about ways of promoting the game in India and what FIFA can do to help us in that respect. I think we have a few things in common. He is a straight talker and he has some unconventional ideas, like me. No doubt that's because we were born in the same year (laughs).
But is it not difficult to promote the game in a country that is mad about cricket?
Cricket is very popular in India. There's no disputing that. We have just beaten the world champions Australia and it was a wonderful feeling. I played the game myself at university and it was my favourite sport. But when I became a government minister I asked myself whether we should be promoting it because it is football that it is the people's game.
What advantages does football have to offer?
It's an inexpensive sport. After all, what do you need to play? A ball, which will last you forever, and four bricks for goalposts. You can play wherever you want, on sand, grass or gravel, and in any weather. Football doesn't cost communities, the government or players anything. It is the global sport.
The Indian national team is struggling at the moment.
India reached the semi-finals at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne but we are currently 144th in the World Ranking. I want to bring those days back. If we were among the top four nations 50 years ago, we can get back there again one day.
How are FIFA and your government working together?
In 2007 Mr Blatter went to Delhi to launch the Win in India With India programme, and FIFA have also helped us to get the I-League up and running. For our part, we have been implementing government initiatives designed to promote the game among young people in the communities. I believe, therefore, that FIFA and the government are both agreed on the best way to take Indian football forward.