As the 70-day long Indian Super League gets ready for its biggest match yet, TOI speaks to Nita Ambani, the inspiration behind the initiative. She promises that the league will only become bigger and better in the coming years, even help the country showcase its talent to the world. Excerpts
Has the ISL achieved its primary aim of revolutionising Indian football, or indeed turning it into a football nation?
I am overwhelmed by the response and by the way India has embraced football. It was really satisfying to see the kind of fan support we got at each of the stadiums; the competitiveness of the league and the enthusiasm among franchise owners also were truly amazing. The fact that every team was in contention for a semifinal slot till the last leg exhibits how passionate the teams were, and how hungry they were to be the first champions. On October 12, 2014, we kicked off a footballing revolution in the country. We want to build on this now, strength by strength in the years to come. Fans have welcomed the innovation and it is heart-warming to see that football has regained eminence in our daily discussions – be it at offices, on social media or at dinner tables.
A lot of IMG-Reliance officials speak of your hands-on involvement. How much of a challenge was it for you to ensure that the tournament did not get derailed?
I have the pleasure of being part of the strong IMG, Reliance and Star team. Personally, I like to get into the minutiae of every task, be it at my school, our newly launched hospital, my foundation work or in sports at Mumbai Indians. The opportunities for discovering and learning come from getting into the details. The biggest challenge was to create pitches and infrastructure in many cities. But we overcame it, working as a team and putting in our best efforts. Having said that, we have a long way to go before basking in the glory of success. We are mindful that it’s only the beginning of a long journey, and we need to take small steps to achieve what we aimed for.
Do you think there is scope for improvement?
It has been a huge learning experience since we conceptualized the ISL, even more so during the last 10 weeks. We are benchmarking ourselves every day, learning and trying to improve. We will review the first edition after the final on December 20 and work towards enhancing the overall experience for everybody.
Bangalore and Hyderabad were initially among the shortlisted cities for franchisees. Does ISL plan to extend its base to include these two cities?
We have received unprecedented interest from many who want to have their own ISL clubs. Even though we want to extend to other cities, I feel at present it’s important for the eight clubs to consolidate and stabilize.