Premier Futsal in India: the Eternal Dilemma

Ryan Giggs: Premier Futsal India Champion

Ryan Giggs has raised yet another trophy, defending his Indian Premier Futsal crown. This is surely the last of a mammoth career, though I said that last year. But perhaps more importantly, has he helped trigger a sleeping giant of global sport? A new futsal competition has generated unprecedented exposure across the world’s biggest news and social media channels, particularly in the English speaking world. Here in the UK, there’s been more media exposure for Premier Futsal than any futsal world cup or event has ever produced.

It’s reached the biggest football and sports media in the English speaking world, like Sky Sports and Goal.com, alongside mainstream media like The Daily Mail, Yahoo News, The Independent and the Mirror. And more still abroad, like television deals in Japan.

Premier Futsal is owned by wealthy businessmen and some of the team owners include actors and media or entertainment companies. They’ve attracted commercial partners like broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks from nothing.

Celebrity Endorsement of Premier Futsal

Louis Figo is the President and figure head, and Indian Cricketer Virat Kohli has been a brand ambassador. As well as top professional international futsal players; Euro and World Champions from Spain and Italy, the league has also attracted some of the top footballers in the world; Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Hernan Crespo and Ronaldinho to name a few. They are going in strong with some of the best entertainment, footballers and sports stars in the world to draw attention to the league.

Idian Futsal Ronalindho

And whilst Ronaldinho, and probably Crespo, grew up crafting their technique and expressing themselves the South American way on a futsal court, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes probably knew little about it. There is the famous link that the Class of 92 went in-house 4v4s instead of 8v8s against other opposition. And Scholes has links to Stalybridge Celtic who partner Sala Soccer School where I coach, so maybe this was his first exposure to the sport?! He recently revealed that he played in China 18 months ago too.  Like many in English speaking nations, he probably became a fan later in life and wish he had the opportunity as a kid to play.

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Paul Scholes with Sala Schools player Oscar Lucas and the Little Strikers mascot at a Stalybridge Celtic exhibition game. Photo: Neil Lucas

All media is good media?

So, all this high profile media and exposure must be fantastic for the sport of futsal, right?

Well, not quite. The answer is messy. I know, they say Messi is the answer for everything in football don’t they?! I’ll use this (latest) Indian example to explain.

As Indian Football Journalist Atanu Mitra put it so succinctly: “all this has not gone down well with the AIFF”.  Shortly before the tournament began, the AIFF released a statement. “The AIFF is the governing body for all forms of Football, including Futsal, in India and we will be announcing our plans, in relation to Futsal, in due course.” The All Indian Football Federation is the governing body of football and futsal in India, affiliated to FIFA.

Futsal Governing Bodies

Why has this not gone down well with them? Well the group behind Premier Futsal are called the FAI – Futsal Association of India. Sounds legitimate, right? In fact this group has nothing to do with the Indian Football Association, or FIFA. They are affiliated to AMF, an alternative global governing body to FIFA. FIFUSA have been around for alot longer too, so in the context of the history back to Uruguay in the 30s, FIFA are a late comer to the governance of futsal. Both organisations still organise world cups in their own name, hence the conflict.

The current season of Indian Futsal has featured square goal boxes (rather than ‘D’ keeper areas), tape on the posts to make them look offical, and four quarters of 10mins to appeal to TV and advertisers more than the genuineness of the sport.

There are parallels with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in India, launched around the same time as the Indian Premier League (IPL), about 10 years ago. Players were met with threats of sanctions and bans by the national governing bodies if they were involved in the rebel ICL which wasn’t affiliated to the national governing body. Shane Bond, a New Zealand cricketer and one of the world’s best bowlers at the time, chose to play in the rebel ICL. As a result, he didn’t play for New Zealand again for 18 months, and he only played for four more months when they did eventually let him back in, retiring from all cricket on 13 May 2010.

Mounting Pressure

And now, before the second (three week) ‘season’ , the original brand ambassador and Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli has had to step down. This is due to mounting pressure and a perceived clash of interests. Whilst as a player he represents the governing body of cricket in India, recognised by the International Cricket Council, endorsing Premier Futsal is a competition not recognised by either FIFA or the All India Football Federation.

So why then, have a rebel organisation who have not done a great deal for futsal in India, suddenly invested and created the most talked about competition in the (English speaking) world?

But what about the kids?

It’s worthy to note that this is a top heavy approach seeking an elite structure from the top, with no reserves, women, academy or grassroots programmes to create a meaningful long-term legacy for the game. At least I’m not aware of any plans or programmes in place to actively promote and build the sport from the ground up with programmes in schools and clubs for children.

However, they are doing far more than the Indian FA ever has for futsal awareness, which is ironic then that their response denouncing the league comes with the first news of sudden plans to do something about. (One year later nothing meaningful has materialised from this either).

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Photo: Premier Futsal

This is the environment that most sports, not just football, exist within. National federations are affiliated to global governing bodies. Unlike other industries or markets, all the best players need to be competing under the same banner for a true competition and to keep developing that talent pool. It’s not like a normal market where lots of competitors are a good thing.

With funding often received from government grants for the well-being and health that sport provides children especially, it’s like comparing the public sector to the private sector. The national football organisation in any country is just that and always will be. Privates are competing in the real market and can use it for their own profit, and arguably be more agile in the market, but aren’t guaranteed to exist into the future. There is bigger risk,  but a bigger reward to be had, in an open market. Generally, they’ll be gone as soon as they don’t see any money to be made.

So although, in an ideal world, everyone would work under the banner of the national body, what happens when they aren’t doing enough? And what priority can we expect a football organisation to show for futsal? The cricket example is intriguing, with 20/20 becoming appealing to bigger markets and now seriously threatening the livelihood of test cricket. Why play a five day test with low attendance, when you could play five 20/20s with sold out stadia and even greater TV audiences.

A Catalyst For Change?

As a result of the initial investment from the ICL and the IPL in what was an open and competitive environment, there has been a huge increase in sponsors, players and viewers. Maybe ICL was the catalyst for the governing bodies to do more to promote new sports in these changing modern times of sports consumption and digital media, even though their success didn’t last as an organisation. They sparked a new sport that has taken cricket to new audiences and new heights globally.

Which approach is best; private rebel organisations or national sport bodies? I’ve worked for a voluntary organisation growing the game from scratch in New Zealand, for the governing body as a development officer and coach education tutor, had sessions with a national team, worked for private coaching businesses abroad and for football clubs in New Zealand, Hungary and England.

One approach I’ve always held on to was from one of my first mentors and inspirations in the game. Scott Gilligan hosted the first national team trials in New Zealand, and planted seeds of passion and service in me in that moment that will last a life time. He also said: “I am not adverse to these organisations, but as I am a FIFA Futsal Coaching Instructor so I prefer to work with organisations in this pathway, which in turn enables me opportunities to coach at future FIFA Futsal World Cups.”

Indian Futsal Scott Gilligan

FIFA Futsal World Cup Champions Brazil
Photo: FIFA.com

FIFA Futsal World Cup Dreams

If you goal is along the same lines, this approach seems logical, let alone inspirational, doesn’t it?

So could Premier Futsal, the top heavy entertainment provider, provide the same catalyst for national football organisations to take action and grow futsal as a pathway and a professional sport in it’s own right from the grassroots to the elite? Or is it a case of short term gain but long term loss, and a confusion of the image for the sport we are trying to promote?

Let’s hope it creates more support from football federations rather than being perceived as a problem, because the viewing numbers show it’s what the world wants. National organisations also have sustainability and youth development and the core of their objectives, so are better placed to serve the bigger picture.

But if the governing bodies don’t supply what the market demands, there will be thousands of privates looking to take advantage.

And thus. The eternal dilemma of futsal.

❤✌⚽🌍

Post your thoughts and experiences below, I’d love to hear them.

 

Matt Futsal Fejos

Futsal, Coaching, Psychology & Life. Connecting people through futsal. A Hungarian New Zealander in Manchester.

matt-fejoshotmail-com has 58 posts and counting.See all posts by matt-fejoshotmail-com

9 thoughts on “Premier Futsal in India: the Eternal Dilemma

  • July 25, 2016 at 10:29 pm
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    BT Sports picked up the Indian Premier Futsal showing the Group games in full and have now shown the 2 hour Final day 3 times. Thats some tv coverage added to 1 million Facebook users. Shown on Sony6 live across India a massive new audience has been introduced to the sport. With each of the teams identified to a city recruiting several Indian players each a whole new group of participants have been found to lead others into the game.
    Forget the politics of national federations this is one big step forward and should be capitalised on in the UK. A professional league will be introduced to tv in the States over the next 2 years with several billionaires supporting the teams launches. Add to this edition 2 of Premier Futsal in India in January 2017 and futsal is in business in the English speaking world!

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    • July 28, 2016 at 1:03 pm
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      The awareness it’s generated is unquestionable. But what structure of local, children, national conpetitions is there to ‘lead others into the game’? This has been a 2 week tv game show but what development structure us there tobfeed playing interest into?

      Reply
  • July 27, 2016 at 7:48 am
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    Without these “non-FIFA” activities futsal will die. FIFA must have competition both in futsal and football to develop, and not just maintain the sports. At this moment it is clear that FIFA is the best suited governing body. But i doubt this in the future as private actors (like this) will see the potenitial in futsal and be able to develop it better.

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    • July 28, 2016 at 1:06 pm
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      Agreed that privates can push for more action but I fear conflicting competitions and player pathways will get in the way.

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  • July 27, 2016 at 3:56 pm
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    Fantastic article. All my thoughts about futsal/new smaller sports, in one piece.
    With that said, official governing bodies will always last long term and they have my support. Just need the patience to back them!

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    • July 28, 2016 at 1:04 pm
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      Thanks Elizabeth, patience for sure, this can only trigger good things and some action I hope!

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  • July 27, 2016 at 4:44 pm
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    Premier Futsal introduced the game to the whole of India through Sony6 and gained worldwide coverage including more than 10 hours of peak time viewing across the UK market via BT Sports. Not through the initiative of the governing body but through significant investment from a group of Indian businessman who showed courage in its marketing programme using world recognised sports stars…futsal, football and cricket….and a top notch music star adding to the mix new Indian Futsal potential stars. In futsal terms this mini tournament created more interest and excitement than any Futsal World Cup or similar event. Get behind edition 2 in January and a commitment to a further 2 years, this has the makings of something big. The opportunities to capitalise on this in the UK should shake the FA into action but football will always be their priority.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2017 at 6:53 am
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    Very interesting. I have a lot to say about this due to recent events in NZ, but i wont as i get worked up about it and wont manage to put it delicately. I will say this though, there should not be any conflict (unless timeframes cross over etc). These “privates” are the ones creating more opportunities and promoting the sport more as they’re providing more opportunities into cups & competitions that don’t exist within governing bodies (I can only speak locally ofcrs as I’m not too familiar outside of NZ too much).
    I think the essence of getting more players to play the beautiful sport gets lost as soon as you put threats and bans and that’s when you’ve really killed it and ruined it for the athletes and those passionate about the sport.
    Thank you for this article Matt

    Reply

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