New Delhi: He has no qualms in admitting that football is nowhere near cricket on the popularity chart in India but the iconic Sachin Tendulkar says the country cannot wait to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup as the sport's following has increased post the Indian Super League.
Tendulkar, who co-owns the Kerala Blasters team in the ISL, asserted that football's popularity is on the upswing in the cricket-obsessed country.
"Absolutely massive. Everyone is looking forward to it, everyone is excited and the guys are waiting to welcome the World Cup to India. It's going to be massive, it's good for India because people are appreciating ISL and FIFA coming to India is a big, big thing," Tendulkar was quoted as saying by fifa.com.
Tendulkar said the ISL has helped in creating a new fan base for football.
"Football is getting popular... it's nowhere near cricket, but I don't like comparisons. It's about appreciating each and every sport... the skills, the hard work and the sacrifices the players make. Each individual should be respected for that and Indian people are appreciating ISL in a big way," he said.
"I'm thrilled that their response has been special and people are following not only the foreign players but the domestic players too...overall that is how football in India is going to grow. With India's billion-plus population, if it grows it's definitely going to have a positive impact on football all over the world," he said.
Asked why he chose to involve himself in football, Tendulkar said, "I feel India is embracing other sports in a big away and this was a great opportunity to be involved with football and contribute in whatever possible manner in Kerala and then promote football there. The response has been phenomenal... we have had huge average crowds... so it's been fabulous."
Tendulkar said football has the potential to be a big sport in India.
"I think the infrastructure of how football is run in India is going to become critical. How the season is played also becomes very important -- you want to try to make your domestic season as competitive as possible and then find the best talent who are part of the ISL.
"With the exposure of having rubbed shoulders with some of the top footballers from all parts of the world, the Indian team will eventually benefit as well. I have no doubts that the change is going to happen and happen for the better," he said.