Football was introduced in India by the British towards the end of the 19th century. The Dalhousie Football Club was the first football club that was established in 1878. Since then, the beautiful game has seen many ups and downs. From being one of the top footballing nations in Asia, the high point of which was winning gold at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, to struggling to make a mark at the continental level measures the arc of Indian football.
One primary reason for the downfall of the game in the country is the prolonged neglect of grassroots development for a long period, except in a few pockets where football is a popular sport. The Indian Super League (ISL) has added a bit of glamour and panache to the game, but the road ahead still remains extremely rocky and meandering.
Even as Indian football is trying to get back on its feet, the corporate sector is building and nurturing islands of hope as part of CSR initiative. One such project led to the creation of Zinc Football. It was born out of a vision to expand the outreach of the Vedanta Group’s footballing initiative in Rajasthan in June 2017. In September that year, the foundation stone for the Zinc Football Academy in Zawar, Udaipur, was laid. The academy is guided by the philosophy that “every child should have an opportunity to play”.
CSR For Football
Hindustan Zinc, a Vedanta Group Company, has been associated with sports in one way or another. Back in 1976, Hindustan Zinc built the fabled Zawar Stadium near Udaipur where national football tournaments are organised annually. Local people in Zawar, a community around 40 km from Udaipur, filled the stands with some even trekking up the mining hills just to see a football match played at the stadium. The stadium also served as the venue of the Mohan Kumar Mangalam Football Tournament that attracted some of the top teams in India.
In order to build on its legacy, Hindustan Zinc launched Zinc Football. The intended purpose of the project is to make an impact on lives, particularly of young children, on a larger scale by adopting a goal-oriented, bottoms-up development programme with a healthy dose of cutting-edge technology to groom youngsters for the future of Indian football. The initiative is committed to identifying and cultivating latent talent from grassroots level, which will once again establish Rajasthan on the football map of India.
One primary reason for the downfall of the game in the country is the prolonged neglect of grassroots development for a long period, except in a few pockets where football is a popular sport. The Indian Super League (ISL) has added a bit of glamour and panache to the game
Goals of the academy
The Zinc Football initiative also provides the children quality education besides formal training in the game. The trainees are exposed to the latest training methods under the watchful eyes of expert coaches, who also rely on technology for analysing various technical aspects of the game. It is widely believed that timely intervention of technology and data-driven analysis can help grassroots football in the country. To achieve this aim, a world-class residential academy was set up in Zawar besides running Zinc Football Schools across Rajasthan. This long-term project aims not only to enhance the stature of Indian football, but also to improve the lives of youngsters by making a positive impact in the area of influence of the company.
The residential training programme is completely free, inclusive of education, accommodation, and nutrition. The focus is on the holistic development of children by tapping into the passion for football in the region. The underlying emphasis of the programme is to give every child an opportunity to play and express themselves.
The passion for football runs deep in the area of operation of Hindustan Zinc. But the lack of modern infrastructure hampered the growth of the game in the region. It’s this gap that the academy intends to bridge. A close study of the major footballing powers in the world reveals the importance of a strong grassroots programme. For example, all the major football clubs in Europe and Latin America have very strong community development programmes that serve as the catchment area for young players. Exposing young players to high standards of coaching and sports science helps in creating a talent pool.
The ever-growing popularity of football in India, especially after the successful hosting of the Under-17 FIFA World Cup, and the introduction of leagues like the ISL, has created more pathways for building a successful career in sports. Investing CSR funds in a sports project to develop training facilities and allied infrastructure provides dirent and long-term benefits to society. It also benefits the various stakeholders of the sport in the state such as state and district football associations, coaches and schools.
Hindustan Zinc has invested over ₹30 crore since the project was started in 2017.
With special emphasis on scouting, as many as 43 talent evaluation camps and district and state-level football tournaments were organised across 23 districts in Rajasthan during the initial year of its inception. Over 4,500 young players (aged 14 or below) were closely assessed and the top 40 among them were shortlisted after a rigorous filtering process. These players were offered scholarships to the Zinc Football Academy, where they are enrolled under the residential student-athlete model.
Zinc Football also set up 12 community football schools called Zinc Football Schools. These schools operate in Zawar, Debari and Agucha tehsils. Over 350 children receive football training at these schools on a weekly basis by All-India Football Federation-certified coaches. The initiative aims at touching the lives of two lakh children by 2022.
The Zawar residential academy is equipped with three FIFA quality turfs and also a 7v7 natural grass ground for training and practice. Additionally, there is a multi-sport ground for recreational sports such as basketball, volleyball, badminton, and cricket. Playing multiple sports helps the students in cross-training. The academy has introduced the country’s first F-Cube Training and Assessment Technology, which helps in continuous evaluation, monitoring and analyses of players with the help of data tracking. F-Cube is the world’s first intelligent and interactive technology for football and fitness training, skill assessment, cognitive development and practice. It also measures important parameters such as nutrition, physical, psychological and mental development. Zinc Football, established just four years ago, made an impact throughout the state with its affiliated programmes like the Zinc Football Youth Tournament and football clinics. From finishing second in the first-ever Rajasthan State Men’s League while playing against teams with much older and physically stronger players, to qualifying for the Subroto Cup in their debut attempt where captain and midfielder Mohammed Adnan was selected among 25 future stars of India by the AIFF indicates the progress made by the academy.
The Zawar residential academy is equipped with three FIFA quality turfs and also a 7v7 natural grass ground for training and practice. Additionally, there is a multi-sport ground for recreational sports such as basketball, volleyball, badminton, and cricket. Playing multiple sports helps the students in cross-training.
Future Road Map
While the Vedanta Group is pursuing greater opportunities for the budding footballers to play in the I-League and other major national tournaments so that they get a chance to prove themselves at the highest level in the country, the company plans to launch a similar initiative in Odisha in the near future. The overarching ambition of Zinc Football is to aid India’s resurgence as a football powerhouse. Annanya Agarwal, who heads the group’s foray into football, hopes to see India breaking into the top 50 in the FIFA World Men’s Ranking and being among the top 10 in Asia.