Mumbai: All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel on Wednesday said the focus is now on helping the country improve its world rankings and win at least the Asian Championship.
"The next biggest footballing commitment from all of us is to make sure that our national standings improve and we have to regain the glory of the 50s and the 60s. At least we must become the champions of Asia if not the world, to begin with," Patel said at the reopening of the Cooperage Stadium here.
India is currently ranked 170th in the world among the 209 member nations. Patel pointed out that the international governing body FIFA has shown special interest in affairs of India and it wants the game to progress here.
"FIFA has taken special interest in the affairs of India. FIFA President (Sepp) Blatter when he came a few years ago, described India as a sleeping giant. But it has now started stirring and moving in the right direction. It is changing now but I still feel we need to go a long way to say we have fully woken up and we are alive and kicking," Patel said.
He added that the India is the only country that has been allowed to operate a league and a football tournament by the FIFA. "The Indian Super League (ISL) has had success in its very first year but this is the only tournament in the world which has special dispensation from FIFA. There is no other country which has a league and a tournament like ISL, because every country has only one national league.
"This is the only exemption given by FIFA among all the 209 member nations in the world. That itself shows FIFA has a special commitment towards this game in India," he said.
He further said the ISL is the fourth largest attended league in the world and the most popular football tournament in Asia. "ISL is the largest football tournament league in Asia. It is bigger than the Japan League, the Korean League and the Australian League. It is the fourth largest tournament in the world," he said.
Patel said FIFA and Asian Football Confederation have contributed to the rebirth of the sport in the country. "FIFA and AFC have contributed immensely to the rebirth of football in this country. I say rebirth because India was always a great football loving nation. India has produced some of the finest footballers of the past. India was among the Asian champions in the 50s and 60s," he said.
The former Union Minister said the AIFF is also emphasising on grassroots programme to develop the sport. "If Indian football has to sustain over the years, has to grow, become big or if India has to rise in terms of rankings, it is only going to be possible on the back of a strong grassroots development programme. That is what the AIFF is committed to," Patel said.
Referring to a PIL regarding the redevelopment of the Cooperage, Patel said people should not obstruct development of the game. "It was not a great facility at the beginning. This ground is more than 100 years old. When this ground came there was an old stadium as well, it is not something that is built today. I wish everybody in the locality well but please do not hamper the growth of the footballers of this country and of this state and this city.
"This ground came before everybody else. Why should there be public interest litigation? Why should there be a stoppage in the growth of football, of the player, of the children? We are a responsible sports body. We want the locality, the surrounding, everything to prosper but there should not be obstruction in the development of the game," he said.
The PIL was filed by former municipal commissioner Jamshed Kanga and members of the Oval Cooperage Residents Association (OCRA) contending that Cooperage, which forms a part of the Oval Heritage sub precinct, has been planned as a recreation ground and that permission granted to build a stadium and a club house was in violation of these rules.
The PIL was dismissed by the Bombay High Court in 2011.