India’s home matches of this year’s under-17 World Cup have been shifted from Mumbai to Delhi at the insistence of the government, which FIFA confirmed on Saturday. According to the original schedule, India were slated to play their matches at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium. However, during a meeting with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Local Organising Committee (LOC) in April, a Sports Ministry official suggested that India should play their matches in Delhi since the government had spent a considerable amount in organising the event.
The ministry also felt it’s ideal if the hosts played their matches in the capital instead of other venues. The AIFF and LOC subsequently forwarded the request to FIFA, who gave their approval on Saturday. Although the official draw will be held on July 7, India, by virtue of being hosts, will be placed in Group A. As per the original schedule, the Group A matches were to take place in Navi Mumbai while Delhi was the base for Group B games. But FIFA swapped the venues.
“Following a request from the AIFF, India will play the group matches of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Delhi,” FIFA said in a statement. The schedule for knockout matches remains unchanged. Another reason to reschedule India’s matches to Delhi was to ensure the capital city gets a few high-profile matches, as it won’t host any knockout matches owing to post-Diwali pollution. Consequently, the five other venues will host the matches from quarterfinal onwards. Pollution isn’t the only concern. So far, ticket sale in Delhi has been rather anodyne. The LOC tournament director Javier Ceppi had said earlier this week that Delhi was lagging in ticket sales compared to other cities. Ironically, though, FIFA’s Head of Tournaments, Jamie Yarza had set attendance as a priority for choosing a venue.
“Attendance, especially in the venue where the home team plays its matches, is one of the priorities of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, (as it’s) crucial to achieving the purpose of better positioning football in the country. So the government’s commitment in this regard is highly appreciated,” Yarza said. “We expect this involvement to extend into the area of pollution prevention, which has been an important topic discussed in relation to the tournament, particularly in Delhi. We are now expecting an action response plan to prevent pollution levels from affecting the tournament, which ideally should continue beyond the tournament.”