At the 36th National Games, Team Gujarat provided a peek of what the future may contain by stunning favoured Punjab 3-2 in their Pool B league encounter. They dethroned powerhouse Goa in the Santosh Trophy qualifications the previous year as well, announcing their entry on the main stage.
Mulrajsinh Chudasama, honorary general secretary of Gujarat Football Association and Football Competition Manager for the National Games, revealed that state leagues are held for men (to be played at home and away), women, juniors, and sub juniors.
As part of the Under-17 Khelo India initiative, the association will also launch city leagues in four cities (Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Bhavnagar).
Recently appointed as chairman of the AIFF’s grassroots development committee, Chudasama affirmed that he is committed to implementing the Football for Schools project, Baby Leagues and e-certificate coaching courses, all part of the development agenda, on an all-India basis. FIFA will donate one million footballs to be distributed among 10,000 schools all over India for its Football for Schools project. The first lot of balls have already gone to Odisha.
Chudasama revealed that Gujarat has faithfully implemented these AIFF-recommended programmes over the past few years. In fact, we have added almost 100 coaches to our pool of (e-certificate) coaches and plan to double this figure next year, he predicted.
Baby Leagues have also been made compulsory in all districts. “We have taken a strict decision that district associations which do not conduct Baby Leagues will not get permanent status,” he warned.
The official also drew attention to the top quality “FIFA-level” grounds at TransStadia, Shahibagh Police Ground etc, that were readied when Ahmedabad bid for hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup matches. They were put to good use to host the National Games fixtures and team practice sessions.
More Gujarat referees are also making the cut on the national stage. If this proceeds on track, Gujarat may one day become synonymous with producing top-quality football referees just like the more evolved states of West Bengal, Goa, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, etc, are known for producing top players.
Spearheading the Gujarat whistling revolution are a dedicated bunch of former referees and officials like the Ahmedabad-based former FIFA assistant referee Dinesh Nair, now the AIFF referee assessor for the men’s competition, a release said.
Due to the several developmental activities over the previous years, including an innovative online refresher course that was implemented when India was in lockdown mode a couple of years ago, eight referees have made the cut at the national level, inclusive of two women.
One of them, (Dr) Williams Joy Koshy from Rajkot, handled the men’s semi-final between West Bengal and the Services last night. About 4-5 more will be appearing for their national-level exams next year.
Aside from that, Project Future India, a programme that was begun in 2015 to advance promising football referees to the national and international levels, may also produce results in the future.
The state’s top whistlers, in Nair’s opinion, are “some of them excellent possibilities and if they perform well in national level contests, they can certainly proceed to the next (FIFA) level.” In 2011, when Messi led Argentina in a friendly match against Venezuela in Kolkata, he happened to be on the line.