In a good news for football enthusiasts, the government is in talks with top English Premier League (EPL) clubs to play their matches in India during the off season. This has been done to utilise facilities developed for under-17 football World Cup in October. During his visit to the United Kingdom in July, Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas met English Premier League’s International Relations Manager Tim Vine and explored the possibility of bringing top English clubs to India.
According to Srinivas, “a number of states have shown keen interest in hosting Premier League matches”. Though the government wouldn’t be directly involved in any organisational aspect, it will provide all possible help to promoters who are keen to organise top EPL teams’ India tours. “It’s very much on the cards. The ministry will not be involved in conducting the matches, but we will encourage it,” said Srinivas, reported Indian Express.
Vine said they discussed their plans on “football development and fan engagement events”, while touching upon the Premier League Asia Trophy that was held in Hong Kong. “Our discussion last month focused more on PL activity in India — and how we are involved in bringing the clubs to India…,” he told The Indian Express in an email. The top EPL clubs over the past few years have played their pre-season matches in various continents to spread the game. The matches, which are planned almost a year in advance, take place in June-July, before the new season begins in August.
This year, each of the 20 EPL teams played at least one match abroad. Arsenal and Chelsea geared up for their new season in Beijing, Manchester United spent a month in the US, Liverpool travelled to Hong Kong while their cross-town rivals Everton prepared in Tanzania. There is also a Premier League Asia Trophy, which takes place during the same period. This has been a conscious decision by the clubs to promote their team and expand the fan base.
The Premier League in India is very popular and Indian fans are die-hard fans of top English clubs. The Premier League sees India as one of its biggest markets, with a television viewership estimated at 150 million per season. Several clubs run their academies in India, but the matches have not taken place due to many factors. The country’s poor football infrastructure is believed to have kept them away from playing their pre-season matches in India.
Srinivas said infrastructure is no longer an issue, as stadiums in six cities have been refurbished for the under-17 World Cup, which will be played from October 6-28. “India has a huge fan base, so this opportunity can be used to promote the sport further. Also, because of the under-17 World Cup, our stadiums and training facilities have improved. So we can put them to good use,” he said. Sports Secretary Srinivas also met the director of UK’s Gambling Commission, Nick Tofiluk, as the Sports Ministry lays the groundwork to legalise online sports betting in India. The ministry is consulting various stakeholders in order to legalise betting in India.