I-League CEO Sunando Dhar knows his chips from French fries. Having being at the helm of the I-League for years he is convinced the I-League is in for better days with the new initiatives being under taken to get the crowds back to the playing fields or the TV boards. In this candid interview with The Navhind Times Sunando spells out the future of I-League in India.Excerpts:
Q: Can you spell out the initiatives to make the I-League more competitive?
We have formed a marketing committee for the first time and it embraces all involved in the game. We have all the clubs involved and all of them have to pool in some money that is going to be utilised to spread the game. Money is going to be utilised to buy regional TV slots; we are going to have syndicated columns and the level of publicity is going to be increased. We are going to have a press conference on January 6 in Calcutta where all the clubs will be represented. We are also hosting a marketing programme for all the clubs that is being organised by AFC to get the fans back on January 4.
Q: One of the things the I-League did was get rid of the requirement to have a marquee player. What prompted such a move?
We off course listened to the clubs. We also realised the idea of getting marquee players does not work. Money is being spent unnecessarily on marquee players. In the I-League as well as the ISL it has been realised that getting a marquee player does not make economic sense. The same sort of money can be spent on better players.
Q: Lasting power is preferred to staying power?
In the end, football is about making the fans happy. We cannot fool the fans. If the quality of football is good, the fans will come. If not , they will not. We simply cannot expect to fool the fans and get away. Give the fans quality football and they will come. If they do not I is because what is being served is not of quality. The blame is ours then. Not the fans.
Q: Are the clubs ready for the steps needed to get the crowds back?
We are all moving in the right direction. There was a substantial increase in the number of fans last season. Maybe there were not many fans in Goa but it is set to change this year. We are hopeful there will be a change because I do see a change in many clubs attitudes. One of the changes is the importance of the fans. That is why we are having this programme conducted by AFC with people from Australia and Malaysia. Things will get better with more understanding.
Q: Do you think Indian fans are attracted to foreign players?
You give any fan good football and he will come. It does not matter from where a player i. What matters is how a player plays. The quality of football is what is important and I think our clubs have begun to understand this aspect. You can have excellent football with all playrs from India.Can we mould such a team? Yes. It has to be done.
Q: AIFF president Praful Patel recently stated “The ISL will need to merge with the I-League”. Your take as CEO of the I-League
What’s in a name? It does not matter what the new league will be called but it is clear from what AFC and FIFA has told us that we can have only one league with about 16 to I8 teams for a duration of about eight months. All teams in this league will need to meet the club licensing criteria mandated by FIFA. This is all. What we call the league is really irrelevant at this time. What is relevant is to fulfil what FIFA and AFC have mandated. It will happen in course of time but for sure it will have to happen at some point. Nobody will be able to change this except FIFA.