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No Money, More Problems

Delhi football is not in ICU, but on a death bed for sure’, lamented the owner of a Delhi football club, currently competing in in the DLF-ONGC Senior Division League being played at CWG sports complex near Akshardham temple.

Delhi’s premier club competition appears to be somewhat amateurish where matches are played on uneven grounds with barely a touch of grass and little boys manning the sidelines as ball boys. The venue doesn’t even have a scoreboard to assist the handful of spectators. Since 1948, the tournament has been conducted by Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) which is affiliated to All India Football Federation (AIFF). Once a thriving hub for football in the country, Delhi now sadly have only past glories to fall back on with the game losing its sheen over the years.

The association organises round-robin leagues under three categories, senior division, A division and B division. B division clubs mostly comprise high school and college students while A division outfits include college students and semi-professionals. The senior division features professional players.

In senior division, 14 teams are divided into two groups with the last placed side from each category getting relegated to A division. The winners pocket a purse of Rs 1.5 lakh while the runner-up and third-placed sides get Rs 75,000 and Rs 30,000, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the turnout for the league matches is sparse with most of the crowd comprising players and officials of the contesting clubs and DSA officials. Players for these clubs are sourced through local talent scouting during inter-school and inter-college tournaments and from the youth academies run by a few clubs. Clubs such as Hindustan FC have talent spotters in Kolkata, Goa, Bangalore, Mumbai and Orissa.

Hindustan Football Club (HFC) is one of the better known outfits in the local football circuit which qualified for I-League 2nd Division. According to HFC director and former Delhi footballer DK Bose, ‘Once you qualify for I-League, it becomes compulsory to follow certain rules laid down by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and funneled through AIFF. One of the key guidelines is requirement of a professional contract’. Payments to these players are determined by ‘quality and ability’.

The senior division league, held roughly over a period of  one-and-a-half-month, features the best local talents. Players coming through international and inter-state transfers receive around Rs 1.5 lakh while upcoming talents from schools and colleges get a minimum of around Rs 10,000 per month. Players from other states are judged by their abilities and salaries begin at roughly Rs 40,000 a month.

However, the players, particularly those coming from other states or foreign countries, are faced with a degree of uncertainty at the end of the season as they need to search for clubs in other cities like Kolkata, Guwahati, Bangalore and Goa, among others. Besides Hindustan FC and Delhi United, no other clubs pay monthly salaries to its players. Usually most footballers and support staff in these clubs usually have alternative sources of income.

Overall, the world’s most popular sport suffers from a chronic lack of finance and sponsorship in Delhi. Talking to Millennium Post, DSA vice-president Nagendra Singh said, ‘We face a lot of difficulty in raising money. Sponsorship is hard to come by. Direct approach to companies like ONGC and SAIL fetch us around Rs 2-4 lakhs but if we want to conduct the league as per the official calendar, we need a minimum of Rs 40-50 lakhs’.

The lack of sponsorship boils down to a malaise prevalent in most clubs affiliated to DSA. The contact number put up on DSA website (+91 11 23311821) is ‘temporarily out of service’ while its head office at Ambedkar Stadium doesn’t really function until the evening. Another club owner said on condition of anonymity, ‘DSA run the association just for the sake of running it. The officials’ mind set only revolves only around holding the league, nothing more. DSA doesn’t have any plan for the eight months when there aren’t any league matches to conduct. No effort is made to promote the game. There is a distinct lack of a professional mindset’.

However, Singh vociferously denied DSA’s alleged lack of professionalism. ‘If we want, we can bring in professionalism. However, clubs claiming to be professional themselves function in amateurish manner. Barring a couple of outfits like HFC, none of the other clubs are registered under the Companies Act. You need money to get a club registered which is lacking. It is easy to blame DSA. Many club officials have been part of DSA before. You should ask what did they contribute to Delhi football,’ Singh said.

It is true certain clubs display a distinct lack of professionalism in the manner they conduct their affairs. New Delhi Heroes, one of the city’s most successful clubs formed in 1939, were taken over by art auction house Osian’s and IOS Sports & Leisure in May 2007. This marked the first corporate takeover of a football club in Delhi. With promises galore, they even made it to I-League 2nd division in 2010. However, despite spending over Rs 1 crore, the club is now down in A division. In essence, there is absolutely no value for sponsors to invest in.

Khurram Raza, editor of Delhi-based football magazine Soccer Watch and general secretary of senior division club Ahbab, said, ‘The biggest problem is DSA doesn’t have a ground of its own. To use grounds around Delhi, permission is required from bodies such as Municipal Corporation, Delhi Development Authority and the state government. This is unlike cricket where Delhi District Cricket Association  has its own ground, Feroze Shah Kotla. DSA never made any real attempt in acquiring its own playing turf.

On top of this, there is an issue of rent which needs to be paid to use these grounds. Ambedkar Stadium, once a thriving hub for football in the national capital, has a look of desertion around it. Owned by MCD, they charge a rent of Rs 5,000 per day. Considering the meager sponsorship which DSA could manage, it is hard to see it conducting the month-long  league at such venues. The current arrangement at the DDA-owned CWG Sports Complex costs DSA Rs 500 per hour.

‘DSA doesn’t have any financial muscle to buy grounds. We can’t even get grounds on lease. Main issue is of finance, as we need a couple of crores to buy grounds. Forget grounds, we have problems even financing day to day activities of the DSA. Somehow, we make do with sponsorships of Rs-2-4 lakhs,’ Singh said.

However, according to DK Bose, HFC have a budget of `50 lakh per year. Within that they run U-13, U-15 and U-17 level academies, which were set up in 2010 at Thygaraja Stadium, near INA. His take on the matter is rather simple. ‘If my club can, for example, generate `1,000 in terms of sponsors, they why can’t a collective body like the DSA collect Rs 5,000. It is the national capital. Sponsorships shouldn’t be such an onerous task’.

Asked about current sponsors, Bose said, ‘We have Solutrean Building, a real estate firm and Bonjour as our main sponsors. Lotto is our kit sponsor’. Khurram Raza has another take on the matter. He said, ‘Corporate Houses don’t want to put in money. They don’t get viewership. Unlike cricket, where after every ball there is space for product promotion, football cannot hope to draw the same attention.’

However, despite his pessimism over sponsorship, Raza feels that the winds of change have arrived. Some clubs have taken up the onus of conducting inter-school tournaments, like Ahbab football club. Despite a limited budget of Rs 8-10 lakhs per season, they conduct inter-school tournaments at Ambedkar Stadium once a year. Delhi United also runs its own youth academy in Dwarka. Raza has predicted that in five years football in Delhi will bring spectators to the stadium. He said, ‘Things are changing drastically. Now people have started following the EPL. Young kids are now going for football’. However, according to Raza, certain steps need to be taken for this to happen.

Firstly, matches need to be conducted during late evening or at night, to pull in more people. However, again, the issue of finance comes into the picture, with payments required for power generators, etc, with a minimum expenditure of Rs 60-70,000 required per day for the association. Also, the Ambedkar Stadium needs to be revived, as Delhi’s biggest football fans have always been those from the nearby Walled City. Raza said, ‘Back in the day, matches between City FC and Young Boys club, would create a curfew-like situation in the Walled City. It was a proper derby’. However, when it comes back to the hard realities of finance, there is not much one can see in the way of hope. Only passion by certain inidviduals and clubs cannot take the game forward.
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