Kushal Das: We have put a clause in the club licensing criteria to have a women’s team, although it’s not A or B level criteria

Kushal Das, General Secretary, was recently involved in a chat on the AIFF YouTube channel. There were some updates, some relegations and other talks related to Indian football. Kushal Das joined the AIFF in 2010 and has been an integral part, working on improving the Indian football structure and making the game popular in the country.

These are the excerpts from the session.

Q) What is your take on the camps for the national teams? When can we expect the camps to start?

Regarding the camps for the U-16 AFC Asian Cup and the U-17 Women’s World Cup we should be able to start by the 1st of August. That is our endeavor. We are in constant touch with various state governments regarding the same. In some states, COVID protocols are very rigid so, we may have to think of moving to a digital state where it is more convenient.

For the senior national team, our plan is to start in early September. We want to do the camp in Bhubaneshwar since the match will also be there. For this, we are in regular contact with the State government as well as SAI. We are trying to do the best under the circumstances.

Q) We are supposed to play Qatar in Bhubaneshwar in October. As a general secretary leading the organization how frustrating is it for you that the whole planning is now dependent on a virus?

Ans) The COVID situation is a frustrating one for everyone. There is nothing we can do about it. We have to survive this. It has impacted a lot of activities not only in sports but everywhere.

Q) We saw the exposure tours for both the 2017 u-17 world team and 2018 AFC U-16 team squads. What is your take on the tours for the upcoming tournaments with the COVID situation not supporting it?

Ans) It is a cause of worry for sure. We had a lot of tours planned before the pandemic happened. So, unfortunately, those have been shelved. We are hoping that the u-16 team can have one tour before going to Bahrain.

For the u-17 women’s team if the situation is better in November and December a few tours can be managed. Before the pandemic things were going well for the team. The coach was also happy. Unfortunately, this situation happened. We will now see what best we can do.

Q) What is your take on the sports panning out post-COVID? How is going to impact things?

Ans) There will be changes and we will have to adapt to that. The changes would be like the saliva ban on the cricket ball. There will also be restrictions on the players celebrating together on the pitch. For this reason, Fifa has announced a water break between the matches for the ongoing leagues. There will also be restrictions on how people can enter the stadiums.

Things will take at least 2 years to settle down and get back to normal.

Q) How much value addition do you think has FSDL provided to Indian Football?

Ans) Without FSDL I am afraid to think what would have happened to Indian football. The federation might have had to curtail it’s activities drastically. FSDL has actually brought in a lot of value. The way they helped in restructuring the AIFF events has been a valuable addition. The Main is ISL. We have made the top league better. There are so many more top-level clubs. A lot of youth leagues across various age groups are there.

FSDL has been a boon for Indian football. We came in a right time.

Q) Talking about the restructuring there has been a complete overhauling of the league structure. Right now there is a total linkage from u-6 to golden baby leagues to u-13, u-15’s, u-19 the 2nd division, the I-league. How tough was it to implement all of that?

Ans) It was really very difficult. I would like to congratulate my team who worked closely in restructuring everything. It was tough to engage with people and to convince them of the necessity of youth leagues and the fact that the concept of youth development was very much absent. We have done all this very successfully. Now as you mentioned there are various leagues at the youth level. I would have liked to add the u-14’s and the u-17’s as well but then its a question of resources and finances.

Q) Because of this restructuring one of the biggest landmark which we have had in the history of Indian football is AFC granting an Asian Champions League slot to an Indian club from the next season. When did you think it could happen and how did you make it possible eventually?

Ans) AFC was always planning to expand the ACL and the AFC cup. So it said it was important for football in India and the other 8 countries that were granted the spot. Finally, AFC took confidence of what we strived to do. It will be a great opportunity to play in the ACL and all Indian clubs should now try to make a mark in ACL.

Q) Coach education is an important part right now. Today there are many licensed coaches all over. Where do you see it 5 years from now and where do you see Indian football in that aspect?

Ans) Earlier we were dependent a lot on AFC sending an instructor for coaches. Now it opens a lot of opportunities for us to conduct courses. We have been working on a project of sending about 10-12 young Indian coaches like Bibiano, Venkatesh, etc. to countries such as Germany, Netherlands, etc with whom we have MOU. Where we will work on the aspect of improving the coaches. Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen due to pandemic but that is certainly a part of our plan. We would like to have as many courses as possible. But, we also need to ensure that the coaches who are getting licenses are properly employed.

I hope that 5 years from now the national team is coached by an Indian coach.

Q) Indian is a destination for mega tournaments now. With the 2017 u-17 world cup, 2020 u-17 women’s world cup, 2022 women’s AFC Asian cup all happening in India. We have also bid for AFC Asian Cup 2027. When did the thought process of holding such tournaments came to AIFF?

Ans) This happened while talking to FIFA Technical Director in Bangalore. He had visited India and FIFA was supporting our youth development program. That is when he suggested that why does India not bid for the u-17 world cup. It was in the starting of 2013.

The technical director told us that India is very much on the radar of FIFA. With a lot of youth development happening it will add a lot of value to it. Then we hosted the 2017 u-17 world cup. U-17 women’s and 2022 women’s AFC Asian Cup were not a big task to get the hosting rights. However, getting hosting rights of the 2027 Asian Cup is tough right now. Top countries like Qatar are trying to bid for it. Also after Qatar host the World Cup in 2022 they will have very good facilities to get the rights for the 2027 AFC Asian cup.

Q) What is your take on the AIFF masters course and its Importance? What prompted AIFF to do so?

Ans) It is important for expanding the football ecosystem in India. Soon we will have 27 matches in ISL by next season if not this season. We need people for international tournaments, leagues, youth football, and various other activities. People need to understand club licensing, player contracts, management, finances, strategic plans, etc. So it was important to launch it. Our course regulations have been approved by Fifa. So it is an important course now for the growth of football in India.

Q) Recently Sai Sankhe Scored 96.2% in her class 10th boards. How important is education for a modern-day footballer?

Ans) Education is extremely critical for footballers. There will be a small percentage who would make it to football. So it is very important to have basic education and become a graduate. After this, you can divert from all this if required and become a professional footballer. However, if one does not pursue a career in football afterward he or she will have other career options to choose from.

He also congratulated Sai Sankhe for her result. He hopes that she continues to do well in both football and her studies.

Q) What do you think needs to be done for Indian Women’s League to be a household name?

Ans) More clubs should come and realize that women’s football is important. The 2020 u-17 women’s world cup and women’s Afc Asian Cup 2022 will help in promotion and growth of women’s football.

Clubs should realize that it is important to focus on women’s football and have a team in IWL. We have put a clause in the club licensing criteria to have a women’s team although it’s not A or B level criteria.

Q) How would you describe Praful Patel now having worked closely with him for so many years?

Ans) It is a pleasure working with him. He is a pretty busy man. So it’s unrealistic for us to expect him to give so much time to football. At least once a week we have a chat and he asks me to give him an update. He has given me a free hand to work but also ensured that I do not misuse it.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to work with him. He is definitely a fan of Indian football. It has been a very good experience working with him.

Q) There is an AIFF Center of Excellence coming up in Kolkata. What is the update on it and when did Aiff realize that we need to have it?

Ans) We were always planning for it. The initial plan was to have a small one but after the u-17 world cup in 2017 we thought of having a bigger one. It seemed essential after the euphoria of the final of the world cup.

The work on the center was getting reasonably well. However, it has slowed down quiet a bit due to COVID pandemic and the Amphan cyclone. We were now beginning to start again but that area has been declared as a containment zone. So, it is an impact for us.

The natural turf is ready for handover. Work on artificial turf has started and we expect to get it by December. Work on administrative building has also started.

Q) Where do you see Indian Football heading to 10 years from now i.e. 2030?

Ans) Indian football is absolutely on the right track. All stakeholders are aligned to take Indian football forward. The federation will always be there to guide them but it’s the main stakeholders which have to click. The state associations have to play an important role along with the federation.

There will be very good times for Indian football by 2030 and I hope Indian football qualifies for the world cup by 2030.

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