By Paul Nicholson
December 16 – India have launched their bid for the 2027 Asian Cup hosting in New Delhi, joining already confirmed Qatar and Saudi Arabia as potential hosts for AFC’s flagship competition after China host in 2023.
If India win the bid it will be see the Asian Cup next two stops being in the world’s most populous nations. India has a population of 1.3 billion people and with China accounts for about 40% of the world’s population.
It would also herald the opening up one of the world’s biggest sporting and commercial markets to the potential of football and vice versa, a proposition that Indian FA (AIFF) president Praful Patel (pictured) made clear speaking after the launch event that was attended by the Indian minister of state for youth affairs and sports, Shri Kiren Rijiju.
“We are hopeful and excited for the future of Indian football. India is a large country with a young populations…with an average population age of 28 years old it makes us really a young country,” said Patel, who is both a AFC executive committee member and FIFA Council member.
Explaining what he sees as a cultural shift in sports in India, he said there was a “change of pattern in sports and moving away from a cricket-crazy nation to other sports.”
India, particularly in its north east regions already has a lot of football being played but the game is fast expanding across the country.
Patel credits a lot of the expansion to having already hosted the Men’s U17 World Cup and the interest that generated. India would have hosted the U17 Women’s edition this year but that has now been pushed back into 2021. India will host the 2022 Asian Cup for women.
“Our methodology is that we want to host major tournaments,” said Patel. “It helps in two ways. The U17 World Cup helped develop our talent pool at a very young age. We have seen many academies mushroom across the country. This talent pool gives us a pipeline for the future. The 2027 Asian Cup is a natural corollary.”
It is part of a football journey that India and Patel want to see progress rapidly with Patel saying that their “mission is to qualify” for the expanded 2026 World Cup which will have eight teams from Asia. That is not out the question, as India were one of the performance stories of the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE where the team exploded into the tournament with a surprise win over Thailand only to narrowly missed out on qualification for the knockout rounds.
When it comes to infrastructure India may not have everything it takes right now nut Patel pointed out that “with infrastructure and the allied infrastructure required we are in much better shape (having hosted big events) and have the potential”. As he points out, India is a big country, economically powerful and fast moving, and 2027 is still a relatively long way away.
“The Indian government is supporting us,” said Patel. “I don’t see any financial constraints going forward.”
This was echosed by Shri Kiren Rijiju at the launch. “Hosting Asia’s biggest football event, the AFC Asian Cup 2027 will be a huge milestone for Indian sports. Our nation is perfectly poised to host a mega sporting event of this magnitude. We have extensive experience over the last two decades of successfully planning, organising and staging some of the world’s biggest sporting events and are looking forward to hosting two more big events in 2022 … I assure you that all government support will be given in getting this tournament to India, and making it a memorable one for everyone involved,” he said.
The Indian bid will be more than a parade around the newest facilities and technologies available.
“The template for tournaments is established,” said Patel, emphasising that hosting is not just about infrastructure but the wider sporting and economic impact that can be generated.
India is campaigning with the tag ‘Brighter Future Together’.
“Every country bidding is different from each other and offer something unique,” said Patel. “India is the second most populous in the world and Asia. China and India must be given special consideration for increased participation and for the building of commercial assets.”
For India to win it will have to break the traditional, though not mandated, alternation of hosting the Asian Cup between the AFC’s East and West Zones. With Patel being the first Indian representative on the AFC’s executive committee as well as the FIFA Council, the country has a seat at the top tables that it has never had before.
But overcoming Qatar and Saudi Arabia will a challenge as those two nations fiercely battle for the soft political power in their own region that comes from hosting major events. At press time the Saudis and Qataris were going head-to-head in the voting for the host of the next Asian game, with the Saudis having demanded the vote be stopped over fears of electronic voting fraud.
Whatever the outcome of that vote, you can guarantee the pressure will be on for what will be a battle of epic proportions to win the Asian Cup 2027 hosting. But as the expanded 2019 Asian Cup in 2019 in the UAE showed, it is a battle worth winning.
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