It was only in March this year that the Indian football team’s FIFA ranking stood at 106. However, much to the delight of football fans across the country, India, following up with some back-to-back wins and a fiery performance as the winner of the South Asian Football Federation Championship stands at a respectable 99 position in the world rankings. Even though we have a long way to go to compete against the highest echelons of world football, the dream of the Blue Tigers is well and truly on.
However, no dream can exist in a vacuum and be achieved without proper resources. Compared to the infrastructure and heavy investment that the BCCI has made toward promoting Indian cricket, AIFF has comparatively done much lesser to fund or promote Indian football. Naturally, the structural attitude of the governing bodies reflects upon the average Indian sports lover’s point of view. In our country cricket is almost synonymous with religion, and although we certainly do not have a lack of football fanatics around, most are into club football, especially European club football. I bet the average young football fan in your friend circle can name at least ten European defenders but they do not know even the starting eleven of our national team. We all remember that viral video on Twitter of our beloved captain, Sunil Chhetri urging Indians to support Indian football.
While we can continue the discourse around profits and sports and the lack of investment in Indian football compared to cricket, the point of this writing is to shed light on a more positive cross-cultural phenomenon developing around sports in India over the last few years. As I mentioned India has no shortage of football fans or players, even though their primary influence might be from watching European football or even MLS and Saudi Arabia League now, since the two GOATs have joined these respective leagues. There are quite a few famous Indian players such as Sahil Tavora, Ishan Pandita, Bhaichung Bhutia, Aditi Chauhan, and Bala Devi who have had the privilege of playing for foreign clubs and have invaluable experience under their belt. Every now and then, we hear of success stories like that of Subho Paul, the 17-year-old Indian baller who represented the FC Bayern Munich World Squad in Germany.
However, these players are exceptional and the opportunity for an Indian player to shine in European football occurs once in a blue moon. On the flip side, there are thousands of Indians going abroad to places like England and Spain to study courses such as Sports Management, Sports Analytics, Sports Medicine, Physical Education, Sports Psychology, Sports Biomechanics and more. This wonderful phenomenon has gained widespread popularity over the last few years and is a wonderful break from hearing Indian parents crib about how there is no career to be made in the line of sports. To be fair, they think so not only for sports but for anything that does not involve engineering, medicine or law, but I digress.
As more and more young Indian students are going abroad to study these technical courses surrounding sports, it is creating a wonderful next generation of individuals who are being well-equipped to break into the sports industry, nationally or internationally. Also, the world’s most popular footballing leagues such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga have partnered with several premier Indian educational institutions, which are sending students to gain first-hand experience and knowledge from Europe’s top leagues and building a harmonious connection affiliation. They get to meet the clubs, understand their inner workings, the coaches, the staff, the medical board and I’m sure much to their excitement, sometimes their footballing heroes in person. The education they acquire adheres to top European guidelines and the lack of infrastructure and resources does not hold the Indian students back. In a candid interview with Homegrown, two students shared their first-hand experiences about sports courses in Europe.
Sayak Basu is currently pursuing his MSc (Grande Ecolé) Sport Management Programme at KEDGE Business School in France, specifically at their Marseille Campus. This esteemed two-year master's program is globally ranked at number two in the SM Master's category. France offers two other top-tier SM programs, which are provided by EM Lyon Business School and Audencia Business School. In the UK, notable options include Loughborough University, the University of Liverpool, and Coventry University International.
Karan Athrey completed his Masters in Sports Analytics and Technologies course from Loughborough University, London. When it comes to sports courses, Loughborough is one of the finest institutions.
Describe your first-hand experience in learning about sports when you went abroad.
Sayak: While there are several institutions worldwide offering courses in Sport Management, many students, including myself, choose to study abroad due to the superior quality of job opportunities available after graduation. Abroad, programs like the one in France offer not only academic rigor but also require students to engage in internships, work experiences, corporate projects, and field trips, which are mandatory components of the degree. Such practical exposure provides invaluable learning experiences, making us better equipped for the job market.
Personally, I had the privilege of working with CD Olímpic Xàtiva, a Spanish La Liga 3rd-tier football club, playing in the Copa del Rey a few years back. This hands-on experience in the football sector in Spain allowed me to witness the efficient marketing, operations, and ecosystem that supports the growth of football in their country. Comparing this with the situation in India, we observe a significant disparity and a need for improvement.
Karan: The quality of education I received was the best one I have ever gotten. In the one year I spent at the University, I received practical, theoretical, and business knowledge. There's a lot more in the sports industry than just the on-field aspect of it. Even though my course leaned more towards the technical aspect of data analysis, I got to learn how sports organizations work within the business side of things. I got to know how football clubs have changed the way they scout and market using data analytics. We got to meet a former Leicester City scout who explained how data analysis was at the forefront of the club's significant rise to their first Premier League win in the 2015/16 season.
For me, these were valuable insights into how the teams work. I even got to work with NFL, learned how T20 cricket and its marketing have changed the dynamic of cricket, and much more. Along with the business side, I was even trained in important data analysis tools used in sports analytics today, which also helped me gain a wider knowledge about data analysis itself regardless of the industry.
How do you think young individuals like you who are learning or have learned from the globally best sports infrastructure can apply those skill sets and knowledge to our nation?
Sayak: Individuals who have studied abroad can contribute to fellow Indian clubs in the sports industry if virtual internship opportunities are provided to them, advising on new business channels, and improving merchandising in sports. Encouraging tie-ups and MoUs between Indian and foreign clubs or universities can also foster growth in our nation's sports ecosystem. We must focus on not just the growth but also the development of our sports sector, and individuals with knowledge from studying abroad in Sports Management can play an advisory role in achieving this. With the right ecosystem, India's sports sector has the potential to experience exponential growth in the coming years.
Karan: I think Indian sports, while on the rise, are definitely far behind other nations when it comes to sport business and analytics. Young Indians can go abroad and absorb so much knowledge about how American and European sports run things that they can come home and apply to our grassroots. Whether it's football, cricket, tennis, or any other sport, India is still lagging behind in terms of data analytics for both on-field and off-field performance. By getting to know the success stories abroad, the youth can instantly identify and mend the changes Indian sports need to make. And it has already started IMO. We have plenty of startups that focus on football and cricket Analytics that help the younger generation be better at a very young age. We can be freelance analysts, psychologists, or even start companies that technologically advance the sport. All of this is possible from the knowledge we have had from abroad.
These insightful couple of interviews from Sayak and Karan shed light on how sports education is in Europe is so advanced and how Indian students are massively benefitting from it. The structure of sports education is such that it provides a holistic knowledge system. These courses provide several different avenues for employment in sports beyond being only a player and gradually these opportunities are coming more into the limelight. On a personal note, it would be an incredibly satisfying feeling to see Indian students learn from the best sporting institutions abroad and apply their knowledge to their nation and etch our name as a legendary nation not just in the cricketing books but across all sports, especially football, the people's game and one particularly, close to my heart.