An Audacious Dream: Putting India on the World Football Map
The final whistle rings through the field and I jump for joy. RoundGlass Football Club team is crowned as the new champions of Hero I-League and will now make their way to play in the Indian Super League (ISL). This is the first time a club has been promoted to ISL from the I-League and I feel so proud of how far they have come towards turning my dream into reality.
As a boy, I remember a game of football being played on a rough playground. Watching the ball glide and zip across the ground, weaving its way from one set of feet to the next, the sudden careening change of pace as strikers tried to kick the ball past the goalkeeper and the loud cheer that rose from across the grounds when the ball found the back of the net — had me in its thrall. It took just those few minutes for the sport to turn me into a believer for life and today, as I steer a winning team toward the Indian Super League, I know we will soon see India making a big mark on the international football map.
Sport was never not an option for me. With a professional field hockey coach for a father, teamwork and healthy competition were the bedrocks of my childhood and social life. A self-made man, my father, Sarpal Singh is a legend in Indian field hockey, renowned both as a player and as a coach who has helped many players reach Olympic greatness. In the 1960s he helped Ghana prepare its first national Olympic hockey squad. Nurturing talent, honing skills and above all, being a pillar of support and motivation for a team are key learnings from my home and have shaped my goals and ambitions.
I firmly believe India is rich in sporting talent and has the potential to become a powerhouse for global sports. I believe that every child deserves a chance to play a sport of their choice and to live a life of Wholistic Wellbeing.
During one of my visits to Punjab, I met a young boy, Jasmeet, fondly called Laddoo by his family and friends. He told me about his dream — “I want to grow up to be like Messi”. This is a dream I want to make a reality.
To this end, I started my initiative, RoundGlass Sports which empowers children by building infrastructure, identifying and nurturing talent across India, and providing high-quality coaching to its players. It creates opportunities for children and youth to take up and excel in sports such as football, hockey and tennis in India, underpinned by the principles of Wholistic Wellbeing.
RoundGlass Sports also runs several targeted programs — the Grassroots, Development, Elite programs — to identify and nurture talent from across the country. The programs are of an international standard and are designed and implemented by some of the world’s leading experts in sports science and performance.
Leading the Way
We have opened three active Development academies and six Grassroot Academies across nine villages in Punjab, with over 600 players in U6–U16 categories. Our Development and Grassroots centres are mentored and supported by experienced coaches. Every training session and match, every moment of play at these centres is characterized by mindfulness, enthusiasm, and fun.
Our main objective at RoundGlass Punjab Football Academy is to help inspire the youth of Punjab to enroll into the sport. Apart from coaching, the academy focuses on the Wholistic Wellbeing of each player by providing nutritional, academic and medical support. Today 20 per cent of the players in the RoundGlass Punjab FC youth academy come from our grassroots centres, and 30 per cent of the players in the senior team come from the youth academy.
RGPFC winning the Hero I-League and being promoted to the ISL is just one of the many achievements of our Football club this year, others being :
- The reserve team played in the Punjab State Super League 2022 and emerged as champions,
- The academy’s youth teams won the U18 – Administrator’s Challenge Cup in Chandigarh and Gold Cup in Karnataka,
- The U-16 won the Principal Harbhajan Cup (in the U17 category), and
- The U-13 and U-12 teams won in The Great Indian Football League in Chandigarh.
These victories are further inspiration for the youth in Punjab, and we believe that inculcating this winning mentality will ensure more trophies follow.
Like any good game, the reach for an audacious goal like taking football in Punjab and India to international shores has its own set of challenges. To create a top-class football program, I often meet with coaches, players, and experts (local and international) who help me understand what we need to do to get there.
When I watched Messi play at the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final and lift the trophy, I was reminded of Laddoo and his dream. Every young player in the academy has the same goal — to be in the league of football superstars like Kylian Mbappé and Cristiano Ronaldo — and they have begun this journey with RoundGlass Punjab Football Academy.
India is currently undergoing a much-needed sports renaissance. Our athletes are increasingly reaching a podium finish on the global stage — seven medals including Neeraj Chopra’s ground-breaking gold at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, 22 golds at Commonwealth Games 2022, plus more in badminton, hockey, boxing, etc. We can manifest this for football too, if we start making long-term commitments to its development.
The Goal Line
Legions of football fans across the globe sit glued to their screens or in packed stadiums as their favourite team fights for the ball, scores a goal by the skin of their teeth and delivers a nail-biting finish. India has the potential to be part of this story and legacy. There’s a growing fanbase and love for the sport in India. A YouGov research conducted earlier this year by FC Goa revealed that there are 160 million football enthusiasts in India!
If we can harness this love and hunger for the game in the right direction and put in resources at the grassroots level, we could inspire the youth to enrol into the sport. However, creating world-class athletes does not come cheap.
For this we need to create a sustainable sports ecosystem, where raw talent is identified and groomed from an early age. This requires vision and generous long-term investments of time and resources from corporates and the government among other stakeholders.
Providing the best coaches, sports nutritionists, physiotherapists, counsellors and robust infrastructure is the need of the hour. In 2018, then sports minister revealed that India spends just 3 paise per person, per day on sports. In comparison, in 2017, EU nations spent nearly 217 times more, at Rs 6.5 per person, per day on sports and recreation.
Business leaders and corporates who are passionate about sports and wellbeing need to take a leap of faith and make such investments. Rest assured success will follow. Such sustained investments will lead to more job creation, generate income for clubs, athletes and people working in the sports industry, increase tax revenue for the government, improve infrastructure, and develop political and social cohesion.
The right place to start this journey is now and RoundGlass Punjab FC has become a symbol of hope and inspiration for football players and fans in India. I know my dream of seeing India on the international football stage is on its way to becoming a reality.
Can you hear football fans across the globe cheering for an Indian football team? I can.
(To know more about RoundGlass Punjab FC and Roundglass Sports Academy click here.)
(Cover image credit: Sandeep Sahdev)