The Subroto Cup, Asia’s largest and India’s most prestigious school tournament is underway with its 59th edition, but the common Indian football fan is Still unaware of it
Football fans across India are now either busy supporting their teams at the Indian Super League or cheering for their favourite European team in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. But underneath all this grandeur of the elite leagues, away from all the limelight, the biggest football tournament in Asia is being held from 25th October, right here in New Delhi.
The tournament in question, the Subroto Cup, India’s most prestigious school level football tournament commenced on October 25, with one single match, and will begin in full force with an average of 14-15 matches every day, from October 26.
The tournament was flagged off in 1960, under the organization of the Indian Air Force, in memory of Subroto Mukherjee, the first Air Marshal of India. The Subroto Mukherjee Sports Education Society (SMSES), a sports development wing of the Indian air force, now runs the tournament. According to statistics provided by the organization, more than 20 million school children have participated in the different editions of the Subroto Cup for the last 58 years. The tournament is as old as the European Cup, now known as the UEFA Europa League.
The tournament started in 1960 with only 50 participating schools from all over the country. As of today, more than 36,000 schools have participated at the preliminary rounds, while 101 teams will participate in the final tournament in all categories”, says a representative of SMSES.
The tournament is played in three categories – the sub-junior under-14 boys, the junior under-17 girls and the junior under-17 boys. The first category consisting of 32 teams will be held from 25th October to 2nd November. The second, comprising of 30 teams, will be held from 1st November to 9th November. The under-17 boys category, comprising of 39 teams, will run the longest, as it begins from 8th November and will continue till 20th November.
The preliminary qualifying tournament is conducted by the Director of Education or Director of Public Instructions of the state, Union territories and Institutions like Sports Authority of India (SAI), Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidyalaya, Army Boys, National Cadet Corps (NCC), Sainik Schools, CBSE, IPSC etc. The tournament happens at the Sub-District, District, Divisional and State Levels. The champion school wins the state level tournament will be nominated to represent the state / UT / Institution.
However, it is not only the Indian children that participate in the tournament. “Teams from friendly foreign nations are always invited to participate in the tournament, every year in order to provide exposure to our children. Teams from Latin America and Europe have also participated in the tournament in the recent years,” says the SMSES representative. Even Brazilian giants, Atlético Paranaense sent their under-17 team to play in the Subroto Cup in 2012. This year, like last year, teams from Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be participating in the tournament in all the three categories.
A selection committee consisting of eminent footballers will select 25 standout players in each category for award of scholarships. All the players selected will be awarded with a scholarship of (one time grant) Rs 25,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs 15,000in Junior Boys, Junior Girls and Sub-Junior Boys categories respectively.
“The Subroto cup plays a big part in shaping the future of Indian football,” says veteran football analyst Novy Kapadia. “It offers a platform for school children to excel and display their talents,” he adds. “Indian footballing stars like Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, Mohd Rafi, Jackie Chand Singh, Nirmal Chhetri, TP Rehnesh, MS Sujith etc. have started their career from Subroto Cup,” says the SMSES representative.
But despite such a tall reputation and such huge prestige attached to it, the Subroto Cup has always failed to attract attention of the spectators. “In spite of being such an important event, the attendance at the venues is getting lower and lower every year,” says the SMSES representative.
When Patriot contacted with different football fans from across the country, almost everyone unanimously said that they had no idea that such a big scale tournament happened right here in India. Even football fans in Delhi were unaware of the Subroto Cup, that happened right here in the city.
“I am ashamed that I did not have any idea about such a prestigious tournament. I will definitely go and watch it, now that I have come to know of it,” says Manchester United fan and resident of Delhi for more than 3 years, Ranit Das.
“The Subroto Cup is an integral, if not the most important, part of the grassroot development of Indian football,” says the SMSES representative. “There is a need to enhance the spectators for the betterment of football in India,” he concludes.