Blackburn Rovers owners Venkatesh Rao and Balaji Rao (Getty)

(WFI) Blackburn Rovers will become the first Premier League side to tour India when they visit next week.

They will play an Oct. 7 friendly in Pune where their owners, Indian poultry giants Venky’s, are based.

Rovers were forced to cancel a scheduled trip to Pune in July following three bomb attacks in Mumbai, about 200km away, that killed 26 people.

“Security is paramount but so is our commitment to bringing Blackburn Rovers to India,” Venky’s director Balaji Rao said in a statement.

“And perhaps the visit now could not have been better timed. The club is riding on a high after its big win over Arsenal, and the players are eager to share the glory with their Indian fans.”

Rovers will arrive Oct. 5. Following promotional activities, they will play an exhibition match against the I-League’s Pune FC at the Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex, Balewadi two days later.

All India Football Federation president Praful Patel is due to attend the Oct. 7 match.

Pune FC was only formed in 2007 and joined the I-League two years later – achieving third place in their opening season and fifth spot last year.

Rovers owners are using the visit to raise the profile of the EPL team in India, world-ranked 162 by FIFA.

Tapping the economic potential of the Indian sub-continent, an emerging football market, represents both a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

Average attendances to India’s top-flight games number only a few thousand and most of the 14 I-League clubs have been slow to embrace Western best practices in football operations.

But the Asian Football Confederation and All India Football Federation (AIFF) have taken steps this year to improve the governance of the game and professionalism of clubs.

Last week, the AIFF’s executive committee approved a grassroots and youth development programme created in conjunction with FIFA, which includes setting up four regional academies in Kolkata, Bangalore (Goal Project), Delhi and Mumbai.

The AIFF’s marketing partners, IMG-Ril, are set to announce who has the broadcast rights for the I-League later this week. Around 70-75 matches are to be broadcast live.

The Ex-Co also ratified the AFC’s recommendations to establish an I-League Committee, which will have a representative from each of the participating clubs.

The I-League, founded in 2007 following the demise of the National Football League, kicks off next month.

Patel said India may make a bid to stage the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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