Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore says India has the potential to play in the FIFA World Cup in near future but the country can reach that standard only if opportunities are created for the players.
Rathore cited the beautiful game's rising popularity even as India skipper Sunil Chhetri recently urged his fans to throng the stadiums to watch the national team play in the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai.
"Football's popularity is rising in India. The number of people who turned up to watch FIFA U-17 World Cup was same as IPL matches. India hasn't played in FIFA World Cup but we have potential. If the potential is linked to opportunities, India will start playing in FIFA World Cup very soon. Be it football, or any other sports, India has tremendous potential," Rathore said.
The minister was speaking at an inter-embassy football tournament, organised by the Russian Embassy.
Rathore said the training opportunities and support for the players are much better now and also urged schools to focus on promoting sports and not just academics.
He said in the next edition of Khelo India, the government will not only organise Under-17 Games but also Under -21 (College Games) events.
Asked which team he will support as a fan in the FIFA World Cup, Rathore said, "I see with what commitment and passion the players play. Sometimes it's Brazil and sometimes it's Argentina but I am the biggest fan of India. We have to see when India plays at FIFA World Cup."