TELEVISION has kickstarted a new revolution. This time, the action is taking place on Indias football grounds. First there were the Kalyani Black Label Federation Cup matches on STAR Sports. Then came the Calcutta Super Division Soccer League on ESPN. And now, the upcoming Philips National Football League, named after its sponsor, will be available on STAR Sports. Indian soccer, for what its worth today, is fast emerging as a viable TV sport.
Consequently, the megabucks are pouring in. Though Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), is unwilling to divulge the exact amount that the electronics giant has pumped in for the Philips National Football League. The biggest soccer event ever to be organised in India, Das Munshi says he wants "to protect the corporate interests of the sponsor", for it is known that more than Rs 1.7 crore will be up for grabs during the two-month-long tournament. Soccer fans will be able to watch 12 of Indias top football clubs vying for the title of national champions. Apart from the prize money and guarantee fee for the participating clubs, there will be substantial cash rewards for the Player of the Tournament and the Leading Goal-Scorer.
The Philips Football League kicks off in Calcutta on December 17Das Munshi is willing to defer the start by a day to accommodate Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda,who has been invited to inaugurate the eventwith an East Bengal-Mohammedan Sporting match in Pool A. Two days later, Dempo takes on Churchill Brothers in Goa to mark the beginning of the Pool B matches. "The local teams have been drawn against each other in the opening matches because we do not want allegations of match-fixing as the league heads towards its climax," says Das Munshi.
In the Pool A line-up are Calcuttas East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, Phagwaras JCT Mills, Chennais Indian Bank, Bangalores ITI and the leading Goa club, Salga-ocar. While Pool B has Dempo and Churchill Brothers of Goa, Kerala Police, Air-India, Mahindra and Mahindra of Mumbai and Calcuttas Mohun Bagan. "The groups have been planned in such a way as to ensure that three teams from Goa and Calcutta do not feature in the same pool," says Das Munshi.
Indian soccer has broken into the five-star league. The draw of lots to split the 12 clubs into two pools of six teams each was held in late November in a suburban five-star hotel in Mum-bai. Clearly, the AIFF, thanks to its 10-year deal with STAR Sports and the willingness of sponsors to back the game, has more money than it has ever had before. "The National Football League is a great idea," says a Calcutta-based former foot-baller, "but whether it actually helps Indian football will depend entirely on how the money earned from it is utilised." The 12 teams need have no worry on that account , for there will be enough for all of them. All participating clubs will collect Rs 5 lakh each before the start of the first phase of the tournament. In the second phase,which will have the top four finishers in each group (eight teams in all) playing on a home-and-away basis, each of the qualifiers will get an additional Rs 2.5 lakh each. The league winners will earn Rs 35 lakh and the runners-up, Rs 20 lakh. The next four teamsthird to sixthwill receive Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh as prize money.
As AIFF officials point out, never before has Indian soccer seen this kind of money. Apart from Philips, the title sponsors of the league, a host of other big corporate housesITC, Shaw Wallace, Dunlop India, Hindustan Lever, VST Industries, Union Carbide, Bata India and Bharat Petroleumwill contribute to the AIFFs coffers for the conduct of the national league.
STAR Sports will be covering 18 matches but, in the absence of upl-ink facilities, none will be live. But Das Munshi hopes to "rope in DD". If Doordarshan agrees to play ball, a few of the matches might be telecast live on STAR Sports. "Live coverage and sports go hand in hand," says a STAR source, "but it wouldnt bother us too much if we dont get uplink facilities. Football is a popular sport in India and it wont be difficult attracting viewers and advertising." The AIFF is on the ball. So are the TV cameras. A couple of more right moves and Indian soccer could well be back on the road to recovery.