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In 2016, Premier Futsal took place in India, featuring an array of notable players such as Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Míchel Salgado, Hernán Crespo, Cafu, and the Brazilian futsal legend Falcão, along with local Indian talent who participated in the competition. However, it is important to note that despite being promoted as futsal, the organizers introduced rule changes that transformed the event into a hybrid version of the sport.
Following the conclusion of this competition, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) made a significant announcement expressing their commitment to invest in futsal. They declared Iran as the benchmark country for the sport’s development, and despite facing setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIFF initiated their first national-scale endeavor in 2021.
The Hero Futsal Club Championship, organized by the AIFF, commenced in November in New Delhi, marking its inaugural edition. This prestigious Championship showcased the participation of 16 teams representing the Indian Super League, I-League, and state-level futsal champions from all corners of the country. Notably, Eurosport India secured the exclusive broadcasting rights for the event.
The AIFF general secretary Kushal Das felt that the Hero Futsal Club Championship had tremendous potential to be a game-changer in the country.
“I think Futsal has got tremendous potential in the country. I think this tournament will be a game-changer for futsal in India,” Das was quoted as saying in the federation’s website.
we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Savio Medeira, Director of Coach Education, and Mr. Sunando Dhar, Leagues CEO, to gain insights into the AIFF’s progress in developing futsal in India. During our conversation, Mr. Dhar highlighted a significant development, namely the AIFF’s aspiration to compete at the continental level in both international and club competitions: the AFC Futsal Championship (AFC Futsal Asian Cup) and the AFC Futsal Club Championship, respectively.
Mr. Dhar emphasized the AIFF’s ongoing communication with the AFC to determine the possibilities and expedite the participation of Indian teams in AFC competitions. He expressed the organization’s eagerness to facilitate Indian teams’ entry into the AFC level and stated, “We are actively engaging with the AFC to explore the appropriate timing and means for Indian teams to participate at this esteemed platform.”
In October of the same year, the AIFF organized the ‘Futsal for All’ festival with the aim of enhancing the popularity and awareness of futsal. This festival had a strong emphasis on inclusivity, featuring matches and activities tailored for children, young adults, older citizens, and individuals with disabilities. By actively engaging diverse groups, the AIFF sought to foster an environment of inclusiveness within the sport.
The AIFF has consistently worked towards strengthening the foundations of futsal and has adopted a systematic approach in curating activities to generate greater interest in the sport. These initiatives encompassed a range of activities such as fun events, small-sided games, and workshops designed to boost participation and comprehension of futsal throughout the nation. Noteworthy endeavors included the introduction of AFC Futsal Coach Education courses and the organization of both online and physical workshops for futsal referees. Furthermore, the AIFF integrated futsal into their Golden Baby League program, which focuses on player development for children between the U-6 and U-12 age categories.
In December, the AIFF Futsal Committee convened, with the presence of AIFF Secretary General Dr. Shaji Prabhakaran and Deputy Secretary General Mr. Sunando Dhar, to further advance the development of futsal.
“Futsal will play a very important role in the development of the game in India, and I am sure that this Committee will take proactive measures to help grow the sport across the country. This Committee will be fully empowered with strategies and policies to enlarge operations in India. Going forward, we would also love to see the National Team compete in international tournaments as well” said Dr. Prabhakaran.
The AIFF Committee confirmed the return of the highly anticipated Hero Futsal Championship (HFCC) in 2023. Additionally, they recommended that the AIFF nominate the champions of the 2022-23 season to represent India in the AFC Futsal Club Championship. Furthermore, the committee expressed their intention to deploy scouts to the HFCC, with the objective of identifying potential players for the National Team. The National Team would participate in the AFC Futsal Asian Cup Qualifiers scheduled for October 2023.
Vijay Bali, the Chairman of the AIFF Futsal Committee, is leading the concerted efforts to cultivate futsal as a significant aspect of sport in India. With a resolute mission to establish India as a prominent futsal nation, Bali and his team are actively working towards the growth and development of the shorter version of the beautiful game in the country.
“Our aim is to make India a futsal nation. Football has been played for a long time here, but it is not the case with futsal. However, there’s plenty of scope for our young players to make it to the international level,” said Bali.
The eagerly anticipated second edition of the Hero Futsal Club Championship for the 2022-23 season took place with a draw held at the Football House in New Delhi on January 30, 2023. The esteemed event was graced by the presence of key figures, including AIFF Secretary General Dr. Shaji Prabhakaran, Treasurer Mr. Kipa Ajay, and Director of Competitions Mr. Anil Kamat.
The tournament featured a total of 14 participating teams who competed from February 8 to February 19 at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, located in New Delhi.
Out of the 14 teams, twelve were crowned as their respective state champions, while Delhi FC and Bengaluru FC secured their spots based on their performances in the previous edition of the competition. The tournament proved to be another resounding success, culminating in an exhilarating final where Minerva Academy emerged victorious after a thrilling shootout against Mohammedan Sporting Club.
Adding to the excitement, Dutch futsal legend Vic Hermans, currently serving as a futsal consultant for the Federation, graced the final as a witness. With an impressive coaching background, Hermans has led three different national teams to the Futsal World Cup and possesses extensive coaching experience in Asia.
On the growing futsal scene in India, Hermans said, “I’ve seen a few matches of the HFCC. The technique is not a problem. Most players know the technique here. We need to work physically. Coaching and tactics are important. A proper league is needed so that we have good games. The coach needs to have a good view of the team’s preparations.”
Hermans, serving as a futsal consultant, engaged in a positive discussion with AIFF Secretary General Dr. Shaji Prabhakaran regarding the future of futsal in India. Expressing his enthusiasm, Hermans shared, “I felt highly encouraged by his dedication to futsal. It’s not always easy to find that connection everywhere in the world, but here, I sensed it. It felt genuine and aligned with what they truly want. That, to me, is of utmost importance.”
Recently, the AIFF announced a list of 31 players selected for the upcoming pre-camp that will prepare for the AFC Futsal Asian Cup qualifiers. The venue and dates for the camp will be announced at a later time. It is a significant milestone as it marks India’s debut participation in the AFC Futsal Asian Cup. The preliminary squad was chosen from the pool of talent showcased in the HFCC.
Dr. Shaji Prabhakaran, the Federation Secretary General, emphasized the importance of futsal development in India, stating, “As per our Vision 2047, nurturing futsal in India is a crucial element, and establishing the National Futsal Team will significantly contribute to its growth. These scouted players joining the national camp will create history, as it marks the first-ever national camp for futsal and our participation in the AFC Futsal Asian Cup. We are confident that this will provide a positive outlook for futsal development in India, with increased engagement from our stakeholders.”
India has been placed in Group E for the AFC Futsal Asian Cup qualifiers, alongside Tajikistan, Myanmar, and Palestine. In the recent 2023 Arab Futsal Cup, Palestine faced elimination in the Group stage, finishing third behind Iraq and Egypt. In 2022, Myanmar surprised Vietnam by securing a 1-1 draw in the opening match. They progressed to the semi-finals by defeating Australia and East Timor, topping their group on goal difference. However, they faced a 1-6 defeat against Indonesia in the semi-finals. In the third-place play-off, they met Vietnam again, resulting in another 1-1 draw, but they ultimately lost the match in a penalty shootout with a score of 1-4.
Tajikistan has demonstrated steady progress in the realm of futsal. In the previous AFC Futsal Asian Cup held in 2022, the nation secured the second spot in Group B, trailing behind Uzbekistan, who were recently confirmed as the hosts for the 2024 FIFA Futsal World Cup. Tajikistan experienced a narrow 2-3 defeat against the group winners but managed victories over Bahrain and Turkmenistan. Advancing to the quarter-finals, they faced a formidable opponent in Thailand and suffered a close 2-3 loss.
Considering our knowledge of the Hero Futsal Club Championship (HFCC), it is evident that India still has a long way to go to compete with experienced teams. Participating in this competition will undoubtedly serve as an eye-opener for the AIFF, particularly if they opt for an inexperienced coach from India, where futsal is still in its early stages of development. With the appointment of a coach yet to be made, the ideal decision would be to select an internationally experienced coach who can guide and educate the players, equipping them with the necessary coaching techniques to avoid significant scorelines.
Nevertheless, we remain open to being proven wrong and wholeheartedly wish the nation success in their endeavors to develop futsal. We eagerly anticipate witnessing their performance in their inaugural major international futsal tournament and hope it serves as a stepping stone for the growth and improvement of futsal in India.
Author of interview
Stephen McGettigan was born in the Republic of Ireland but grew up in Belfast. He is the founder of Futsal Focus, a Football Industries MBA graduate from the University of Liverpool Management School, and he has worked in the Football and Futsal industries for 15 years.
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