Thursday 19 October 2017, 10:07

The TLO: Just another team player

  • Team Liaison Officers (TLOs) are the link between teams and organisers

  • Mohsin Khan, Jitendra Kumar, and Ritesh Patnaik are TLOs at India 2017

  • All three have garnered a new level of interest for football

Arriving in a foreign country thousands of miles from home can be a challenging experience for even the most seasoned traveller. While for those who do not speak the local language and are unfamiliar with the culture, the transition can be harder still. Spare a thought, then, for the 23 young members of each of the 24 squads contesting the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, the most important competition of their burgeoning careers.

To ensure that the teams can focus entirely on what they have to do on the pitch without having to worry about language and organisational issues, the India 2017 Local Organising Committee (LOC) has made a Team Liaison Officer (TLO) available to each of them, as is the case at every FIFA tournament.

***TLO basics:

  • These volunteers are the link between their teams and the organisers, and the local population as well.

  • They must have a command of their team’s language, the language of the host country and English.

  • All the TLOs at India 2017 have excellent language skills, but what of their knowledge of football? asked some of them about their relationship with the game in a country where cricket dominates the sporting scene.

“I wasn’t interested in football at all before this World Cup. All I knew was that it was a sport with billions of fans,” said New Caledonia’s TLO Mohsin Khan, whose relationship with the game was virtually non-existent. “My ex-girlfriend was a Cristiano Ronaldo fan, and one day she bought me his shirt, with the No7 on it. That’s when I started to support Portugal, though I’ve always preferred cricket.”

Jitendra Kumar, who has been accompanying Honduras in India, has a similar story to tell. “I didn’t have any connection to football at all. I’m a cricket fan,” he said. “But I’d heard of FIFA and I didn’t hesitate for a second when I got the chance to take part in this World Cup.”

Unlike students Kahn and Kumar, 40-year-old Ritesh Patnaik has a lot of life experience to call on and has spent a lot of time in France, England and Canada. “In India, you don’t get that many chances to play football, though I did play a bit at school," he said, before explaining that Lothar Matthaus, Roberto Donadoni, Paolo Maldini, Romario and Bebeto are just some of the players to have made an impression on him over the years: “I watch Brazil, Germany and Italy more than any other teams when the World Cup is on. I really started taking an interest in the sport in France, and I used to go and watch Nantes play. And when I went to England, I went to even more games.”

After their experiences at India 2017, however, they all have one thing in common: football is now part of their lives. “You learn so many things doing this job,” said Patnaik. “When you watch on TV, there are quite a few things you don’t really understand. What is the coach shouting from the dugout? What’s the referee saying to the players and in what language? I asked the players to tell me what goes on in those situations. You really get a feel for what life’s like in a football team.”

“The more matches I watch, the more exciting I find the sport. And I’ve learned the rules little by little, like penalties and corners,” explained Khan, who has had a close-up view of New Caledonia’s first outing on the global stage. “I can now understand matches from a technical viewpoint,” added Kumar. “I can see what’s not working and what a team’s lacking.”

Do any of our three TLOs feel they have been welcomed into the teams they have been assigned to? “They told me I’m very much part of it,” answered Patnaik, while Kumar said he appreciated being treated as if he were “just another member of the family”. As for Khan, he was so in tune with New Caledonia that he felt their pain whenever they conceded a goal: “I was sitting with the team in the technical area for their last match against Japan and I jumped up and shouted when we scored. Two of the volunteers gave me a startled look.”

“If they become champions of the world, then that means I do too,” said Patnaik before Les Bleuets’ went out in the last 16. “I’ve learned a lot about football through the players and the coach,” added Kumar, who, thanks to India 2017, has set himself a little challenge: “I’m going to go away and learn all about football now.”

*Special memories: - Mohsin Khan (New Caledonia): “The coach, Dominique Wacalie, gave me his boots and asked me to train with them, so that we can play together when I go and visit him.” - Ritesh Patnaik (France): “They take their training sessions really seriously, but when they’re over, I have a kick-about and do some keepie-uppies with them.” - Jitendra Kumar (Honduras): *“I’d never have had another opportunity to learn so many things about Honduras. The coach comes from a very modest background and so do I. We’ve had a lot of chats together.”