Mission XI Million seen boosting India's football growth

NEW DELHI: The benefits of India hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup are set to be felt far into the future, thanks to an ambitious and far-reaching plan to fast-track the growth of football in the world’s second most populous nation.

October will see a FIFA tournament take place in the country for the first time. The tournament will be a milestone event in many ways, but perhaps the most lasting aspect will be Mission XI Million, which is a grassroots program designed to encourage children to play the Beautiful Game and enjoy all the associated social and sporting benefits.

A government of India and All India Football Federation initiative, Mission XI Million is a school contact program that aims at improving the football culture of India, building the football ecosystem and ultimately widening the talent pool for the various national teams. It is intended to spread the scheme across 36 cities, reaching out to more than 15,000 schools and over 11 million children.

Side benefits from the program include participants learning healthy habits and motor skills, as well as life lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship. The approach is to work with school principals and sports teachers in a bid to encourage children to play football regularly.

The ambitious project has received the backing of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We need the support not just of children, but also of every parent and every teacher to encourage boys and girls to play football and develop both skill and fitness,” said Modi. “I am confident that these children will be able to take Indian football to its rightful place in the world.

“Mission XI Million will take the Beautiful Game of football to at least 11 million boys and girls around the country. Children in every state, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kutch to Arunachal Pradesh will get a chance to learn, play and enjoy football.”

adidas have also partnered with the program with the company providing a significant amount of football gear, as well as operating exclusive master-classes at the various festivals held around the country.

Sports Minister Vijay Goel added: “There is a lot of interest in the sport amongst the youngsters, and they are very passionate about it. We want to transform this passion into something more concrete and have boys and girls playing the game and being active. This is a mission to connect with these kids, to change football and sports in India forever."