Mumbai: Amid the rising fanfare around franchise-based sports in the country, Portuguese football legend Luis Figo launched Premier Futsal, India's first-ever multi-national futsal league, in Mumbai on Tuesday.
Premier Futsal will kick-off on 15 July this year and eight Indian cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangaluru, Kochi, Hyderabad and Goa — each with their own franchise teams, will compete for the top prize.
Futsal is a shorter variant of football (20-minuted halves) and is played indoors between fiva-a-side teams.
"It's a new challenge, a new adventure (for me) that I hope, like everything I did in the past on the pitch with different clubs I played for, is a success," said Figo, who will serve as the president of Premier Futsal, at the launch of Premier Futsal.
The tournament will feature eight marquee international futsal stars, each representing one of eight teams, and will showcase 56 current international players from 21 countries.
More importantly, Premier Futsal, in association with the Futsal Association of India (FAI) will conduct a talent hunt across the eight host cities to scout 40 Indian futsallers for the tournament. The program, starting on 15 May, will comb through 2,500 participants per city and shortlist five regional players for each team.
Each five-a-side team will include a marquee player, three international players, and one Indian player, along with seven substitutes. The grand finals of the 10-day long tournament will be played on 24 July.
Figo, a former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan star and winner of the Fifa World Player of the year and Ballon d'Or, seemed excited about the project and said that many future football stars, including the likes of Ronaldinho and Messi, made their foray into the sport through futsal. And though he was initially sceptical about futsal in India, he believes the country, where many kids start playing football on the streets in a five-a-side game, has potential to produce futsallers.
"India is a huge country. People love sports here, they love soccer, cricket. And because there is a huge population, there is a huge market and a huge opportunity for sports events to reach great success. It's a combination of these factors that helped me decide to join this project," Figo said at the event.
"I hope we can give something to the Indian population to watch and enjoy and we could do something positive for the sport and for the country.
"Futsal is synonymous with speed, skills and the spectacular and could be very interesting and amazing to watch on the television."
Figo is starting the project in association with Indian entrepreneurs who conceptualized the futsal league under the entity Premier Futsal Management Pvt Ltd. The chairman of Premier Futsal, Xavier Britto, said he was confident that the tournament will capture the imagination of Indian television-viewers and fans due to the fast and action-packed nature and short duration of the sport.
India, since the inception of the Indian Premier League (IPL), has undergone a revolution in the franchise-based sports market, with the ISL, Pro Kabbadi League, Premier Badminton League, and Pro Wrestling League, the most recent entrant, finding decent following in the country. In fact Balu Nayar, who was involved in the design, marketing and monetisation of the IPL, is the executive director at Premier Futsal.
While all these sports were already popular in the country, India is yet to have its tryst with Futsal. The Portuguese soccer star said the project is a first step in the direction.
"We are not here to compete with cricket," Figo said. "It's impossible to compete with cricket in India. We are just here to introduce India to Futsal."