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Weekend in Mumbai: Part 2: Soccer skills and info tech wizards

As the dramas of the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka unfurled last month, and the England Test series here begins next week, no-one living in India could fail to appreciate the importance of cricket to the nation. T20 Matches against big rival Pakistan, not to mention England and Australia, were watched by millions before India finally succumbed to the pressures of a rampant West Indies. The nation will again be glued to TV sets when England or India walk out to bat.

But another sport is quietly taking root in the heart of Mumbai, especially among its children. In January Manchester United opened its first soccer school in India, aimed at encouraging more interest in the UK’s number one sporting passion. With two enthusiastic and skilled pros from England, the school is training hundreds of children in the finer arts of the game. It has contracts with many of the more prestigious schools in Mumbai, and in a separate development Manchester United are also involved in a scheme with an Indian mobile phone operator to bring children from poorer communities for training in England.Manchester United Soccer School

The other weekend I had the chance to see the school firsthand, when they generously made it available to some of our staff and the children, and separately to hear from Ashley Cole about the scheme for training in the UK. Over 20 schoolchildren from mainly low income families were flown over to England this autumn.

If soccer is beginning to take off in India among the young, I was left in no doubt at another weekend event recently of the way in which IT skills have already made a deep impact on the next generation. Tata Consultancy Services invited me to attend, and present some prizes, to the participants in their nationwide IT WIZ Quiz. I went along with a suspicion that, as it was a Sunday morning, I would find a small room with at the most 50 teenage IT geeks. How wrong I was! The huge auditorium was heaving with probably a thousand 14-17 year olds, backing their schools to win the Mumbai stage of the competition. The atmosphere was electric.

TCS IT Wiz Kids QuizBut even more extraordinary was the display of IT knowledge the teams displayed. I admitted on stage at the end that I had never before struggled so much to answer the questions – for example “If Apple Inc is traded as AAPL on NNASDAQ, what is it traded as on NYSE?” or “What does Foxconn make for Amazon?” . The competition, superbly orchestrated and run with military precision, was a real insight into the way IT has got into the blood stream of so many Indian schoolchildren. No wonder India produces some of the best and largest IT companies.

I went home for Sunday lunch feeling I had an awful lot of IT catching up to do.