Good crowds and a strong media coverage during the U17 World Cup suggests that India is ready to embrace the beautiful game…after cricket
The sleeping giant of world football.
That was how the former President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, had described India. Blatter had been at the helm of FIFA for long enough to identify the market India possessed. A single country with almost 600 million people more than the whole of Europe, a country totaling over a billion people.
India are enjoying their first FIFA experience in the form of the U17 World Cup. If the trend is to be believed, it is going to be a big success financially. Whether it will bring football to the forefront of Indian sport will be something to be seen in near future, but at least football is front and centre of many media outlets in India now.
The Indian cricket team is currently playing against Australia in a T20 series and New Zealand will be coming to India to play a ODI series next. However, even in the national media, U17 football is getting priority, something which has never been seen before.
Jeakson Singh, who made history by scoring the first FIFA World Cup goal for India is all over the sports pages. When he scored the historic goal, the 48,184 people present in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the capital went into a frenzy which is only seen in India when an individual does well in a cricket match.
More than half a million people saw the 24 matches of the FIFA U17 World Cup in India during the first six days. According to the official attendance counts, in the first three matches, Kolkata wins it by far with 142,574 fans present in the stadium with New Delhi, the capital, standing second with 136,734 people in the stands to watch the four matches there.
In terms of ticket sales, Mumbai was behind the race, but the Mumbaikars took it positively despite the absence of any of the major favourites. Paraguay, Mali, New Zealand and Turkey formed Group B which has so far played in Mumbai. Yet, for their first four matches, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai had no fewer than 74,269 spectators, at an average of more than 18,500 people per match.
Kochi had the strongest matches. Brazil-Spain, the highest profile game had the best crowd of 21,362. Brazil’s second group match had only 15,314 people in the stands. And as Brazil had left for Goa for their third match of the Group D against Niger, Day 3 at Kochi will find lesser people in the stands although Germany and Spain will be playing their last two matches respectively there.
Goa and Guwahati, so far, have had disappointing numbers though. Both the cities are famous for their football following. But the U17 World Cup seems not to have excited the fans enough in those two cities.
If the U17 World Cup paves the way for India to be the host of the another age group competition, like the U20 category in 2019 for example, it can successfully initiate a process to change the mindset of the average Indian sports fan to football in the long run. And that will be the most significant change this U17 World Cup can bring.