'On schedule amid a pandemic' - AIFF Masters Programme kicks off with a few tweaks

On Thursday, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel launched the first-ever batch of the AIFF Masters Programme via an online meeting.

A first-of-its-kind program to be launched by a national sports federation, the AIFF Masters hopes to build a supply line of football management professionals who will cater to the needs of the growing market that is Indian football.

There was well thought out curriculum and syllabus for the students of the one-year course when it was announced back in January this year. However, the thinktank behind the course have had to do some shadow boxing with the Coronavirus pandemic that has brought life to a standstill across the globe.

But, with a few tweaks, the program has launched on schedule, on July 9, 2020. Spanish club Cadiz CF, AIFF's partners in the program, were also present for the launch, albeit via online means.

Right from the Common Admission Tests (CAT) to actually launching the program, everything has gone to plan despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, explains the Program Head Shail Kapri.

"Our CAT exams happened on schedule. The program started on schedule with the AIFF President (Praful Patel) and General Secretary Kushal Das speaking. The Cadiz Sporting director Enrique Perez also joined live for the launch. They are all keyed in," he told Goal .

Of course, the pandemic has meant that physical classes that were set to involve international faculty will not be happening. Instead, it will all be done online. It is not ideal but something that has been necessitated by the pandemic, states Kapri.

"The first couple of months will be challenging. The international faculty were supposed to teach them face to face but now the sessions will be online. There will be challenges because classroom sessions are classroom sessions at the end of the day. But the good thing is, we have not allowed the pandemic to change our schedule at all," Kapri explains.

The schedule for the program will now see online classes for the first two months followed by a stint at the AIFF House in New Delhi. Kapri hopes that by that time, the lockdown and travelling restrictions are eased and classes can be held at the prestigious St. Xavier's College in Mumbai.

"At the moment, we have a batch size of 30 students which includes a woman. The plan for the first two months is to have online sessions because we have to abide by the government regulations. Then they move to Delhi to the AIFF House where they will learn how the Indian FA functions. Then they will come back to Mumbai where they will finish the remaining session.

"We are hopeful that by October, the situation will improve so that we will be able to have some sort of socially distant classrooms. Most of the classrooms at St. Xavier's are 65-seaters. With 30 students, it allows us to socially distance. 

"Then the students will work with the AIFF on the U17 Women’s World Cup in February. Then they will proceed for the Cadiz trip. The World Cup gets over on March 7th and after wrapping it up, we are looking to have them till April 15th in Spain."

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Kapri feels that the Spain stint might become memorable for the students because of the fact that Cadiz are in the running for promotion to La Liga. They are five points clear in the Segunda division with three games remaining.

"I think Cadiz are playing really well. They are right now five points clear and if they get a promotion, there is a good chance that these students will get to see Cadiz play a big LaLiga team like Barcelona or Real Madrid. And working on such an event will be a huge opportunity."

Kapri further explains how the commitment showed by the 30 students to take up the course amid the pandemic bodes well.

"You will have adversity in your quest but the fact that all these students have shown a commitment to enroll during such an environment. It bears testimony that they are posing so much faith in the federation. The belief that the program will train them to handle pandemics like this and they're going to come out of this journey ready to make a positive impact on Indian football and football at large."

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