Blatter: The sleeping giant is awakening

The Asian tour of a FIFA delegation led by President Joseph S. Blatter, and accompanied by Mr Zhang Jilong, Acting President of the Asian Football Confederation, came to a conclusion in New Delhi on 9 March 2012 following stops in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The FIFA President marked the occasion by holding a press conference, at which he insisted on India “playing its part in the development of world football”.

“My aim as the FIFA President remains the establishment football in the continent of India,” he commented, repeatedly stressing his view that India should be considered “a continent rather than a country”.

Mr Praful Patel, the President of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), announced that India would be making two significant bids to accelerate the development of its position within the football community. “India is making a serious bid to host the U-17 World Cup in 2017,” he revealed. “Apart from that, we will also bid to host the FIFA Club World Cup in 2015. Both tournaments would provide an excellent opportunity for our players to rub shoulders with the best in the world.

“I understand that there are challenges and limitations as well,” he added. “But we will overcome all of them for the cause of the sport.”

Mr. Blatter, who also met India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and its President, Mrs Pratibha Patil, during his stay in Delhi, congratulated the AIFF for this show of ambition, although he offered no guarantee of success. “FIFA remains a democratic set-up,” he said. “Both are positive developments no doubt. But it’s up to the FIFA Executive Committee to decide.”

I had referred to India as a sleeping giant during my last visit to India in 2007. But I know the giant has started to wake up.
Joseph S. Blatter

Blatter declared himself “happy” with the outcome of his meetings with India’s leaders, and the AIFF President also believes that his nation’s football has the necessary backing at political level. “The Prime Minister wants to see India as one of the premier footballing nations,” he said. “Nothing can be more inspirational for Indian football.”

FIFA is already heavily involved in India and playing an active role in the construction of football academies in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi. And Blatter believes that these efforts, allied to those of the AIFF, are already paying dividends.

“I have been closely following the development of football in India. The FIFA Development Office is presently based in Delhi and the setting up of the regional and the elite academies represents a step in the right direction,” he told reporters after his day-long visit to New Delhi.

“I had referred to India as a sleeping giant during my last visit to India in 2007. But I know the giant has started to wake up. I see a lot of improvement since 2007, although a lot more still needs to be done.”

Mr. Blatter summed up the mood of positivity by concluding: "I know you have another game (cricket) but there is surely place for two games at the top. There cannot be world football without India.”