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Messi's outing could help India, hopes AIFF

The AIFF is dreaming big on the Argentina-Venezuela match in Kolkata on September 2.

test sharma | IANS

Updated:August 26, 2011, 1:39 PM IST
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Messi's outing could help India, hopes AIFF
The AIFF is dreaming big on the Argentina-Venezuela match in Kolkata on September 2.

Kolkata: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is dreaming big on the Argentina-Venezuela match featuring superstars like Lionel Messi here on September 2, hoping it would help raise the profile of the game and expand its reach in the country, besides drawing more corporate funds in future.

Two top FIFA officials will be among the spectators at the 1,20,000 capacity Salt Lake stadium, which will host the first FIFA friendly international match in India.

FIFA Technical Director John Michell Benezet and Development Director Theory Regengase will arrive in the city on Tuesday and visit the site of the proposed National Football Academy in Pailan in the southern outskirts.

"They will visit Pailan and then stay back to watch the match. During their stay, they will share their knowledge and expertise for development of Indian football," AIFF vice president Subrata Dutta told IANS.

"These high-profile games attract attention of apex bodies like FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC). When they see the tremendous interest generated in the city for the game, these bodies will be more interested in helping us develop the game," Dutta said.

The Salt Lake stadium, with its dilapidated infrastructure, was virtually written off for international matches. However, with the Messi match coming up, the state government spent Rs. 11 crore to upgrade the facilities and renovate the giant stadium.

"Now after the renovation, we are in a position to hold any international match there. This is the big gain," said Dutta.

The AIFF official exuded confidence that with the craze for the tie skyrocketing, it will in future goad corporates, other soccer associations and federations to stage more such games.

"And wherever these matches are played, more stadia will be renovated and that will lead to further infrastructural improvement".

The game's highest governing body in India was also expecting a vast change in the spectator profile for soccer with the high-priced tickets - Rs. 700 to Rs. 5,120 - targeting the creme de la creme of society who have for long stayed away from the football stadia.

"So far, we used to get one lakh plus crowd for a derby match. But the spectators were mainly from the lower middle class and at the most from the middle classes. But the spectator profile will change for this match.

"Those who come will be mainly from the middle, upper middle and elite classes. Besides being the society's opinion makers, these sections are the main target of the corporates as they are the niche consumers," he said.

"The corporates will sit up and take note. And in future, they will pump in more money if we can retain these consumers in the game".

With the build-up for the match creating interest among school kids - many of whom are die-hard Messi fans - and also in the drawing rooms, many women and children are expected to take their seat in the galleries on September 2.

"This will help in expanding the spectator base of the game," he said.

The new spectator profile and the tremendous following the match is likely to generate will draw corporates to sponsor matches of this level in the near and distant future.

"And this will be a big advertisement for Indian football, which in turn will attract more sponsors," he said.

"All these taken together will help in the commercialisation of football, the way it has happened in cricket. There will be no dearth of fund for promoting the game. If more such megastar players come and the moneyed class finds that the stadium provides spectator comfort, this will accelerate the process of commercialisation."

In the long term, the Indian clubs could emerge big gainers as a better class of foreign players would become interested once they get to know the level of matches being played here.

"The improvement in the quality of foreign players will improve the standards of the club as a whole. Nowadays foreign players think twice about coming to our country when they hear we are 153 in FIFA rankings."

Besides, the match could be a watershed in expanding India's players' pool as many youngsters are likely to feel a lot "motivated, encouraged and inspired to take up football seriously when they see such a star before them".

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