India is expected to become the most populous country in the world by 2030. Football leaders in the country also want it to become established a global force in the sport by then.

That lofty ambition was significantly boosted by last month’s visit to India of a FIFA Delegation, headed by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development Thierry Regenass.

“With India, we’re engaging in a ten-year development plan, which would include, if confirmed by the FIFA Executive Committee, the hosting of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 in India,” said Valcke. “There is no football without a strong base, without grassroots football. There is also a lack of infrastructures here which hinders the growth of the game too; in this area also, we will be active.”

It didn’t take FIFA long to get the ball rolling. The organisation, in collaboration with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), launched its first-ever Grassroots Football Programme this week in Mizoram. The state’s Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, who represented it at football and founded the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) three decades ago, said: “Who would have thought that FIFA would be here at our own door-step to train our children.”

Twenty-eight coaches will lead the programme, which is expected to run for three months and will cater for children between the ages of six and 12. A number of them are expected to end up in football academies.

Who would have thought that FIFA would be here at our own door-step to train our children.

Lalthanhawla, Mizoram's Chief Minister

Scott O'Donell, FIFA’s Technical Director of regional academies in India, praised Mizoram for having a “sustainable grassroots plan” in place and cited that as the reason the state was chosen as the starting point of this programme. He added that it is notable that Mizoram has at least three astro-turf grounds - a FIFA requirement that is a rarity in India.

“FIFA wants to create a base from where talent can be spotted and supported,” O’Donell stated. Lalthanhawla added following Monday’s launch: “FIFA and AIFF is committed to Indian football – we have seen it today.”

Talent search gives buzz to Maharashtra aspirants
The development process is also underway in Maharashtra. Following a partnership between the Western Indian Football Association (WIFA) and the Sporting Ace Private Limited (SAPL), it was determined that USD 19 million would be invested into football in the state over the next ten years.

It will include programmes to educate coaches and referees, the revival of the Rovers Cup – a competition that began way back in 1891 but was disbanded 11 years ago – and a search for an Indian superstar of the future. More than 50,000 youngsters from U-14 to U-18 level – both boys and girls - will participate for free in the latter project from December 2012 to February 2013.

The WIFA’s Honorary Secretary, Souter Vaz, explained: “Nearly one year of research and ideating, with extensive fact-finding trips throughout the various affiliated districts, has been undertaken. First-hand information has made it clear that football is very popular in all the districts of Maharashtra and enjoys a huge following amongst the younger generation. This interest only needs to be channeled in the right direction, with the best facilities and just rewards awaiting those who excel.”

Henry Menezes, the WIFA’s CEO said: “WIFA and the SAPL will be looking to engage the football community in Maharashtra through new and exciting formats such as futsal, beach football, freestyle football etc., and also look the possibility of a professional state league to create more professional opportunities for the flourishing football community.”