With thousand-plus years of history, football is a classic sport that has withstood the test of time. Today, it is played worldwide in more than 200 countries.

In many ways, the longevity and pre-eminence of football is testimony to its simplicity. It is called ‘the beautiful game’ for a reason. 11 players on each side with just a ball at their feet create magic in unison, weaving around 11 opponents to score a goal.

Football is THE sport. It can be played anywhere: on the beach, in hostel corridors, empty parking lots or lakh-capacity stadia.

Interestingly enough, India is at a stage where it needs football more than ever before. Lifestyles are becoming sedentary, public spaces are shrinking and newer generations are finding it hard to develop within themselves the ‘community’ feeling. And as youngsters are encouraged to look outdoors, a team sport like football seems to be the most preferred option.

But what are the avenues for India’s youth to pursue football? Is there a way to channel the youngsters’ enthusiasm in a sustained, productive manner? Fortunately, things look pretty bright on that front.

Coca-Cola and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) launched a national grassroots football tournament called ‘The Coca-Cola Cup’ in 2009 to create a sporting culture in the country by promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. The tournament helps in identifying potential football stars and providing them with the platform and opportunity to turn their inherent talent into a real-life profession.

By 2012, the program had evolved to participation from 41,760 young footballers from 2,600+ schools across 87 cities. But while the effort is admirable, there is still a lot of work to be done. India’s relatively poor performances at the international level continue, and the nation currently sits at a sorry 171 ranking, with qualification for the World Cup a distant dream.

That said, India will certainly be participating in the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup to be played in India, which means that the massive U-15 Coca-Cola Cup initiatives have come at the perfect time to ensure that the best talent is picked in the Indian line-up. These players will then have the opportunity to test their skills and compete against the best young players in the world.

Grassroots initiatives like the Coca-Cola Cup, therefore, will not only result in a better and healthier lifestyle for youngsters but will also be the perfect platform to create a feeder mechanism of talent for the Indian national football teams.

Football is a compelling example of teamwork, camaraderie, skill and will, all coming together to produce a magnificent symphony. The joy of playing a sport can never be matched, and with efforts such as the pan-India Coca-Cola Cup, the reasons to keep playing have increased manifold.

Coca-Cola has joined hands with the No. 1 sport and the world’s largest democracy at an opportune time for all the right reasons: to take football, health, personality development and India’s international performances to the next level. Exciting times seem to be in store!

 

 

Gopalakrishnan R
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