Odisha Football Club has just signed a historic deal with British-based India Business Group (IBG) to cement further commercial relationships between India and the UK.
The memo of understanding (MOU) means both the club and IBG will work towards better health, social and economic benefits for Odisha’s diverse communities.
“This is truly exciting for India and UK relations,” said IBG’s chair, Professor Lord Patel of Bradford. “We know the success of the IPL (Indian Premier League), and the soccer league has huge ambitions to mirror that. Odisha’s at the forefront of those efforts.
“India is a sport-loving nation, and by working with clubs like Watford FC and having legends from Spain on-side, this is Odisha FC’s message of intent.
“But never forget that football is a global business, and communities will thrive when business deals are struck to benefit them.
“IBG’s expertise in having a foot in both halves means we’ll be able to advise, introduce and cement relationships which will embody in spirit and action Prime Minister Modi’s vision of a living bridge between our two great nations.”
Lord Patel, a former vice-president of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), believes this new connection will create opportunities.
“We know that sport is a universal way of helping people,” he continued. “It’s great for mental and physical health, but it’s also been shown to find, nurture and produce talented individuals and teams.
“If one person, in one team, in one club succeeds, then we’ve seen how business, politicians and economists get behind them to ensure greater fiscal, community and societal success.”
Earlier this year, Odisha FC appointed Coventry-born commercial and sport consultant, Mr Raj Athwal, as the president.
Athwal brings with him decades of working with top-flight English and Scottish soccer clubs and coaches.
“Soccer is more than just two rival teams battling to win a game,” he said. “We only have to look at Manchester United and England star, Marcus Rashford, to know footballers do great things for their communities in which they are invested.
“They’re considered as role models, and young people want to copy their heroes, and we’ve seen non-UK men and women come to play for British clubs and vice-versa.
As India’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi said, we can be the change, and Odisha FC
wants to change the lives of the 47 million people who live in this wonderful state.”
Odisha’s reputation in investing in sport is well-known. It was the first state in India to sponsor the men’s and women’s national hockey teams.
The state’s political leaders are behind Odisha FC’s ambitious plans.
The vision of the state’s Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik, has helped the state to start a model of partnership and high-performance centres that has drawn national attention. The chief minister always says, “Sports for youth, youth for future”. And, under his leadership the sports department of the state government has worked hard to create a positive ecosystem for the growth and development of different sporting disciplines across the state.
Mr R Vineel Krishna, special secretary to Odisha’s Chief Minister and commissioner – cum – secretary, Department of Sports and Youth Services, Government of Odisha said, “I am glad to know about the partnership between Odisha FC and India Business Group. Odisha has an attractive investor policy, and we would welcome the potential investors to the State. The State Government will facilitate the investment as per the current policy.”
For several years, IBG has been bringing UK and Indian businesses together, creating successful partnerships which it believes it will emulate in Odisha.
“Odisha Football Club is thrilled to have signed this strategic partnership with the UK-based India Business Group,” said owner, Dr Anil Sharma, founder and chief executive of GMS.
“Our shared values, passion and mutual interest in embracing the power of sport as a global gateway for education, health and well-being and entrepreneurship in and with India makes this collaboration significant for the state of Odisha, which is emerging as the sports capital of India.”
That enthusiasm is shared by the UK government in India.
Mr Nick Low, British deputy high commissioner to east and northeast India said, “The UK-India relationship has entered a transformative decade that will see much deeper and broader cooperation on areas that matter to both nations.
“Our living bridge between our people has a crucial role to play as we set out on this ambitious journey together. This collaboration between IBG and Odisha FC promises benefits for our communities here and in Britain.”
Odisha is famed for its mineral deposits and finding ancient treasure troves. Now it is planning to discover new diamonds, this time in the shape of future soccer stars.
Odisha FC has promised to invest in its communities, organising open trials, football camps and outreach work for boys and girls. Its football academy will offer them professional training, education and social skills.
“If I’ve learnt one thing during my extensive experience in this beautiful game it is that through the core pillars of nutrition, mental health, gender equality and exercise, we will support and educate the diverse communities within Odisha,” said Athwal.
“By doing so I believe we can create employment opportunities for the local communities to not only be part of the club but society as well.
Imagine if Odisha was able to find its Cristiano Ronaldo, and they ended up playing for Watford, Manchester United or Liverpool, how great would that be?
Just stop and think about that, and you know what a wonderful, once in a lifetime, opportunity this is.”