Mumbai, Sep 15 (PTI) As many as 25 lakh students took part in football matches across Maharashtra today as part of the state government’s drive to promote the sport ahead of the next month’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup, being hosted by the country for the first time.

In Mumbai, even the famed Dabbawalas (tiffin carriers) took part in this `Maharashtra Mission 1 Million’ event.

“Till 5 pm, we had received reports that 16,29,189 boys and 9,33,174 girls played football at their schools. My conservative estimate was of 10 lakh, but we received a tremendous response,” said sports minister Vinod Tawde.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed a wish that at least 1.10 crore students should play the game. So we launched Mission Maharashtra and the Sports and Youth Welfare Department supplied three footballs each to 33,000 schools,” Tawde said.

The idea was to create a conducive environment for the international tournament India is hosting, and Maharashtra was the first state to execute such a large-scale programme, Tawde said.

In Mumbai, senior bureaucrats, including IAS and IPS officers, and even the Dabbawalas took part in the program as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis inaugurated the event at the Bombay Gymkhana.

Fadnavis himself kicked the ball around. “The FIFA U-17 World Cup is happening for the first time in the country and Maharashtra. To support it, Tawde decided to start Mission 1 Million,” the CM said.

In coastal Raigad, district Collector Vijay Suryawanshi came on the ground dressed in football gear. “This was an occasion to refresh my memories of school where I played football regularly,” the IAS officer said.

In Jalgaon, district Superintendent of Police Datta Karale joined Collector Kishor Raje Nimbalkar in flagging off the local football event. Karale was also dressed in football gear. The IPS officer attributed his good physique to “lot of football” played at school.

The government, during the monsoon session in August, had organised a friendly match of legislators from both houses of the state legislature.

“Today’s event will promote field games (overall) too, because students nowadays are getting addicted to indoor games and video games on cell phones or on computers,” Tawde said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.