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The billionaire, Bollywood and the future of Indian football



MUMBAI (Reuters) – A storm could be brewing in India’s top-flight football, a glamorous and acrimonious world that encompasses Asia’s richest man, the cream of Bollywood and a self-styled former gangster.

Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire tycoon who commands the Reliance Industries corporate empire that owns the Indian Super League, is facing pushback to his family’s dominance from some executives in the country’s football association and clubs.

At stake is the financial future of football in a country devoted to cricket. The outcome of the power struggle could also help shape whether India can ever become a world force in the game, realising ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s description of being a “sleeping giant” – and, of course, the big dream: whether it can one day play in or even host a World Cup.

Ambani’s holding group launched the Indian Super League, an elite competition of newly created teams, in 2014 with the aim of attracting investment and big global names, much like the Indian Premier League has in cricket.

However tensions have been building over who ultimately calls the shots: the Indian football association, which technically governs football at all levels, or Ambani’s group which owns the top league of 10 teams.

It’s a rare power split in global football, and a recent dispute between Ambani’s camp and the association illustrated differing visions over the direction of the Indian game, whose national team is ranked 108th globally.

This year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, a top executive at India’s football association, Kushal Das, wrote to Martin Bain, the Ambani lieutenant who heads Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), a Reliance holding company that owns the league.

The national coach, employed by the association, has complained that the enlisting of so many foreign recruits in Indian football could hold back the development of home-grown players. Das, in a March email exchange seen by Reuters, said the governing body had the right to limit the number of foreign players allowed to compete in the Super League.

The dismissal was swift.

“Contrary to the position in your email, all competition regulations rather need approval from FSDL,” Bain responded, according to a copy of the email exchange seen by Reuters.

The football association backed down for this season.

Representatives for Reliance and FSDL did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article. The football association’s media director, Nilanjan Datta, declined to comment, but said questions about tensions with FSDL were “baseless”.

Requests for comment from Bain and Das, via FSDL and the association, were not responded to.

Indian game of two halves

The player issue is disputed globally; some argue imported veterans stand in the way of domestic talent, while others say they haul up standards and share skills and experience.

But the exchange also reflects a conflict within the Indian game.

FSDL and the Ambani family’s supporters says the Super League has raised awareness and money for a disorderly and underinvested sector, and brought in marquee players such as Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero and France’s Robert Pires.

Ambani’s wife Nita, FSDL’s chair and the public face of the league, has expressed hope India will qualify for the 2026 World Cup, and one day host the event. And some Super League club owners are committed to what they consider a football revolution.

“Indian players are benefiting from the arrival of quality foreigners and coaches,” said Mandar Tamhane, CEO of JSW Bengaluru FC. “Football has become a lot more tactical and technical,” he added. “The exposure has helped Indian football develop.”

But the Ambanis’ influence is resented by some club owners in India’s traditional football league, the I-League, who say the Super League is sucking attention and investment from the rest of the game and stunting its long-term development.


“This is a hostile takeover if there ever was one. They basically own football,” said Ranjit Bajaj, a self-described former gangster who found redemption in football, and a prominent figure in the game who took Punjab’s I-League side to a national championship in 2018 as its owner. “It’s really sad.”

The Ambanis did not respond to requests for comment made via Reliance.

The family is accustomed to domestic business dominance.

The Reliance empire, with a market value of about $153 billion, includes India’s leading telecom firm, a major retailer, its largest refining complex, a news outlet and a Bollywood studio. The group’s revenue last fiscal year accounted for around 3% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy.

‘Such a difficult situation’

Reliance and partner IMG Worldwide bailed out the cash-strapped football association a decade ago, pledging around $140 million over 15 years in return for sponsorship, licensing rights and running the Super League.

The association remains dependent on the deal money. It sent six emails to Reliance executives between May and October last year, reviewed by Reuters, saying payments of $6 million had not been received. One warned of a “severe cash flow crunch” and said the association had to put payments to suppliers on hold.

A Reliance executive answered twice, once saying it would take more time to release the payment and then saying the payment was in process.

Reliance did not respond to requests for comment on this email exchange.

The football association has considered whether it would be possible to renegotiate parts of the contract, according to an audio recording reviewed by Reuters of its president speaking to I-League executives at a meeting last year, although it is not clear which parts.

“When you’re dealing with a giant like FSDL, whose parent is Reliance, legally you will land up in such a difficult situation,” association President Praful Patel said in the July meeting.

He said FSDL had saved the association from falling into debt, adding “They have invested so much money.”

Patel did not respond to requests for comment made via the football association.

Business meets Bollywood

Thus far, however, the Super League itself is proving neither hugely popular nor lucrative – a rarity for an Ambani venture. Stadium attendances have halved over the past six years, and the pandemic is likely to worsen the situation.

Of course, creating a profitable league in cricket-mad India was always going to be a tough task. But industry veterans say Ambani erred by excluding India’s original clubs and creating a standalone tournament without promotion or relegation.

“It was 100% a wasted opportunity. The money coming in is welcome, but it should be spent in a proper manner – not just creating a hype,” said leading sports commentator Novy Kapadia.

The Super League’s original eight clubs were owned by Bollywood heavyweights like Ranbir Kapoor, cricket champions including Sachin Tendulkar and prominent businessmen, though several have since exited. Two new teams joined in 2017.

Ambani’s group initially projected, in 2014, that clubs would be profitable within about five years, according to an industry source with direct knowledge of the matter.

However none of original eight clubs, whose latest financial statements were reviewed by Reuters, had broken even by March 2019, save for Bengaluru, with about $234,000 in profit.

FSDL, of which Reliance owns 65% and Walt Disney-owned broadcaster Star India 35%, has significant control over clubs, according to a draft 2014 contract seen by Reuters.

Clubs must select coaches from a league-approved list, cannot sell shares without approval and must spend at least $500,000 per season on marketing.

Star India referred questions to FSDL.

Sports commentator Kapadia said the league’s future depended on billionaires continuing to bankroll their clubs, especially as the next season could be delayed and played without foreign players or spectators due to the coronavirus.

“The hit will be very severe,” he said, but added the league would continue “as long as there are enough rich people in India to burn money”.

Reporting and photo: Reuters


Catch the wind with Kitesurfing World Champion Youri Zoon at COMO Cocoa Island



Embark on an exhilarating kitesurfing odyssey from May 6th to 20th, 2024, at COMO Cocoa Island alongside Youri Zoon, celebrated for seizing the kitesurfing world championship twice. Under his seasoned guidance, amplify your kitesurfing prowess, whether you’re a neophyte craving the fundamentals or a seasoned aficionado striving for intricate manoeuvres and airborne thrills.

Kitesurfing merges windsurfing, surfing, and wakeboarding for a dynamic water sport. Using controllable kites, riders harness wind power to glide across the ocean’s surface while being set against the backdrop of endless horizons and azure waters.

Throughout his residency, Zoon will conduct guided kitesurfing sessions, offering novices a gentle introduction to the sport or empowering veterans to elevate their abilities. Additionally, Zoon will host enlightening COMO Conversations, delving into his personal journey to kitesurfing eminence and the obstacles he surmounted along the way.

Guests may arrange activities with Zoon at their leisure, with plenty of time to make the most of our private island comforts, from massage treatments at COMO Shambhala to sandbank dinners under the stars and more.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Zoon’s affinity for kiteboarding burgeoned at the tender age of 13. A prodigious talent, he swiftly amassed accolades, securing victories at the Junior European Championships and Dutch Nationals in his inaugural year. Subsequently clinching the world title in 2011 and 2012, Zoon’s enduring passion for the sport fuels his ongoing commitment to mentorship and coaching, ensuring his legacy endures both on and off the water.

Nestled within South Male Atoll, COMO Cocoa Island beckons discerning travelers with its intimate enclave of 33 overwater villas. Renowned for its iconic Dhoni Water Villas, which pay homage to Maldivian maritime heritage, this idyllic retreat offers a sanctuary of tranquillity and indulgence. Accessible via a scenic 40-minute speedboat journey from Velana International Airport, COMO Cocoa Island promises an unrivalled blend of luxury and seclusion.

For details on COMO Hotels and Resorts or to plan your next escape, please visit

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Sheraton Maldives hosts successful second season of Full Moon Futsal Cup



Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa celebrated the culmination of the highly anticipated Full Moon Futsal Cup on March 31, 2024. The tournament, which commenced on March 17th, brought together 12 teams from neighboring resorts in Malé Atoll, fostering a spirit of friendly competition and camaraderie.

SO/ Maldives emerged victorious after a thrilling final match, securing the coveted title of Full Moon Futsal Cup Champions 2024. Mohamed El Aghoury, General Manager of Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, presented the winning team with the Championship trophy and gold medals during a closing ceremony. Additional prizes, medals, and certificates were awarded to recognize the exceptional talent displayed by all participants.

“We are honored to have hosted and participated in such a vibrant tournament,” Mohamed El Aghoury commented, reflecting on the event’s success. “The Full Moon Futsal Cup celebrates not only sportsmanship but also fosters strong bonds within the resort community.”

Throughout the tournament, all teams showcased exceptional skill, determination, and teamwork, captivating spectators and fellow competitors alike. Notably, Sheraton Maldives’ own associate teams, Team Sheraton and Team Furana FC, participated with commendable spirit.

This involvement aligns with Marriott International’s Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) initiative, which prioritizes fostering an inclusive workplace where employees feel valued. The participation of the Young Professionals ARG team specifically exemplifies the group’s dedication to community building, skill development, and mentorship. The tournament provided a platform to spotlight the energy and potential of young professionals, promoting their growth and contributing to the organization’s future success.

Extending beyond a sporting event, the Full Moon Futsal Cup embodies the values of unity, friendship, and healthy competition. This aligns with Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa’s commitment to fostering community connections and Marriott International’s TakeCare philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of physical well-being among associates.

The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa extends its sincere gratitude to all participating teams, supporters, sponsors, and organizers who contributed to the resounding success of the Full Moon Futsal Cup 2024. The resort eagerly anticipates continuing this tradition of sporting excellence and camaraderie in the years to come.

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Dive into memorable underwater adventure with Baros Maldives’s Eco Explorer Experience



In today’s world, where the fragile balance of marine ecosystems teeters on the edge, to call for sustainable tourism practices resonates louder than ever. Baros Maldives, deeply rooted in its respect for nature, leads the way in conservation and preservation. Baros’s Eco Explorer Experience stands as a testament to the island’s commitment, inviting guests to not just observe but to actively contribute to the safeguarding of our underwater sanctuaries.

Nestled on a lush, natural island paradise, Baros is a sanctuary surrounded by a kaleidoscope of marine life, boasting a world-class house reef, celebrated for its unparalleled beauty and biodiversity, attracting adventurers and nature lovers alike.

The Eco Explorer Experience is a carefully curated immersive experience designed for those who seek to delve deeper into the mysteries of the ocean. This experience is more than an adventure; it’s a journey of discovery and contribution, offering intimate encounters with the marvels of the sea, all while promoting marine conservation.

With this experience, Baros guests enjoy a myriad of enriching activities, culminating in a bespoke photobook documenting the essence of their Eco Explorer journey beneath the waves.

Coral Restoration and Conservation: Participants will immerse themselves in coral ecology, by planting personal coral gardens under the guidance of Baros’s resident Marine Biologist. This hands -on experience not only fosters coral growth but also contributes to the restoration of these vital habitats. Through the Coral Cube initiative, guests will apply innovative techniques like using fast plug cement to build thriving underwater ecosystems. The Baros marine team will share bi-annual updates with the guests so that they can follow the growth of their corals.

Marine Life Identification: This educational session equips guests with the knowledge to identify different fish species and understand their vital roles within the marine ecosystem. Equipped with snorkelling gear and new insights, guests will explore Baros’s world- class house reef during a snorkelling tour, guided by the resident marine biologist, to witness the vibrant marine life.

Night Snorkelling and Bioluminescence: As night falls, the reef reveals a different kind of beauty. With UV lights, guests will explore this nocturnal wonderland, observing the reef’s inhabitants in a new light. This magical experience is not only enchanting but also educational, offering insights into coral health and the ecosystem’s delicate balance.

Baros recognises the fragility of the marine environment and is committed to fostering sustainable tourism practices. The Eco Explorer Experience is more than a holiday activity, it’s an invitation to become part of a larger movement, advocating for the protection and preservation of our marine environments.

Join the Baros marine team on this extraordinary journey. Together, dive deeper, explore further, and unveil the boundless wonders of the ocean, ensuring they remain vibrant for generations to come.

For bookings and more information, please visit or contact Baros directly at or call +960 664 26 72.

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