INTERVIEW-Soccer-Blatter keen to wake "sleeping giant" India

KOLKATA, India, April 16 (Reuters) - Indian soccer can be revitalised through a strong grass-roots development programme, according to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

“At present we are working on Vision Asia and our plan for India is big. We are saying ‘win in India with India’,” Blatter told Reuters in an interview.

“We want to wake up the sleeping giant. In the 1960s, the national team was good, but India has probably lost its way.”

Blatter’s four-day visit is the first by a FIFA president to India.

Twice Asian Games winners, India beat Japan in the bronze medal playoff at the 1970 Asian Games before Japan became Asia’s soccer powerhouse and India began its slide towards obscurity.

“There must be more effort on development as India is not a poor country,” he said.

“It’s like USA. Football is not the number one sport in India, but education of public, disciplined efforts and respect will definitely improve the game.”

Currently ranked 165th in the world, the Indian federation has channelled a lot of energy into the national league but without much success.

The federation last week announced a professional league, to kick off in October, which will include 10 teams in the first year.

Blatter, however, said development must begin from the bottom.

“I think in India the focus is too much on professional league,” he said.

“Football’s development programme must be like a pyramid, from the bottom to the top, there must be more effort to develop the sport.

“You should not just focus on professionalism; most important is to develop the basics to even the technicians, coaches and institutions.”

Blatter is scheduled to meet India’s prime minister in Delhi on Monday and will inaugurate the permanent headquarters of the All India Football Federation the following day.


Blatter said football now played a larger role in society.

“The important role of FIFA is the social responsibility of football,” he said.

“Football does not know the difference in classes, religion, size as everyone can play football.

“In Kyrgyzstan, football has united people and solved social problems to a huge extent.

“In Tajikistan, the national under-17 side played in the World Cup and they don’t even have a stadium.”

Blatter said that was the ruling body’s wider role.

“That is what FIFA would want to do and play a big role because in many countries football is the sole entertainment and families and people come together with the sport,” he said.

“Our focus will be more on issues like ending child labour, racism, prostitution and in our endeavours we are now supported by the political European Union, who supports the ACP programme (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) to use football for social development.

“It is a long way to go, but a good way to go.”