London: Nita Ambani, member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Founder Chairperson, Reliance Foundation, on Wednesday underlined the growth of Indian football since the advent of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014.
In just five years, ISL has emerged as the third most watched league in India. ISL viewership for 2018-19 on TV alone was 168 million, and digital viewership was over 12 million. The sixth edition starts October 20 with a clash between two-time finalists Kerala Blasters and two-time champions ATK.
The ISL has also provided a platform for thousands of youngsters to see football as a viable career option, something that Ambani felt was 'unthinkable' ten years ago in an Indian household.
She cited the example of India defender Sandesh Jhingan who plays for Kerala Blasters in the ISL.
"When Jhingan started out in ISL, he was bought for just 3000 dollars. Today, he draws a salary of a hundred and eighty thousand dollars - 60 times over his starting salary," she said.
The ISL has not only changed the footballing ecosystem in the country at the professional level but at the grassroots level too, reaching out to over 1.5 million children.
As the founder-chairperson of the Reliance Foundation, Ambani spearheads the Education and Sports for All (ESA) initiative, helping enhance the lives of children all over the country and pushing the underprivileged and differently-abled through their various programmes.
Nita Ambani said: "Our RF Youth Sports programme for schools and colleges has reached out to 9 million children. The Reliance Foundation Jr NBA programme has impacted 11 million children. Overall, across all sports, Reliance Foundation has touched the lives of over 21.5 million children across the country."
Summing up, she spoke of the three objectives she hopes to achieve - to make sure no child is deprived of sport and that the 'Right to Sport' could be declared as a fundamental right; to see India emerge as a global sports powerhouse; and sports acting as a medium of peace.
She also paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary.