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The 2017 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup has attracted arguably more headlines than most other editions of the tournament, chiefly due to its venue – India. On December 5, 2013, it was decided that the 2017 U-17 World Cup would be the first FIFA tournament ever to be hosted by India. Since then, there has been a major restructuring of the approach that is taken towards football in the country, chief among them being the setting up of a proper Under 17 team representing the country and arranging international tours for them. Another aspect of the preparations has been the revamp of stadiums and facilities in the venues.
At the centre of the process has been a certain ‘Javier Ceppi’. The Chilean was appointed as Tournament Director in 2014 and has been a constant presence in India. The journey has not been an easy one. Anybody who has followed domestic football in the country would know that practically no football facility across India was upto international standards. It was the case in New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Kochi, Margao, Guwahati and Kolkata – the six venues across which the tournament will be held. Apart from the DY Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai, which has hosted Indian Premier League matches in the past, all stadiums underwent a revamp that started from the seats to the blades of grass on the pitch and everything in between.
“At the beginning it looked hard,” says Ceppi. He then goes on to give the example of perhaps the one stadium that comes to mind whenever the words ‘Indian’ and ‘football’ are spoken together. “When I first came to the Salt Lake stadium I never thought that the transformation would be so big. But if you look at it now, inside the facilities are so good. It may not look too different from the outside but it has completely changed inside. Apart from this we have held so many mock drills in the different venues for disaster management and have readied ourselves for eventuality. These are stuff that is not spoken about too much but they are very important and the credit goes to the state governments and the stadium owners to have put everything in place.”
It is not the first time that Ceppi has organised a tournament such as this. He was involved in the 2013 edition of the Under 17 World Cup that was held in UAE and was Tournament Director when it was held in Chile in 2015. Ceppi has expressed concerns over ticket sales on numerous instances, particularly in venues like New Delhi and Goa but now believes that it is on track. “In Goa, ticket sales have picked up since we started the physical sale of tickets. Maybe online sales was not the way to go over that as the improvement of sales is significant since we started the physical sale of tickets,” said Ceppi, “For Delhi, people don’t normally come to stadiums to watch football matches as could be seen in the Indian Super League. Even then, in my opinion, it has been a fantastic response.”
Among all venues, Kochi has been the one that has hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons in the run-up to the tournament. The problems have been manifold, the chief among them being the slow pace of renovation in and around the stadium and the training facilities. But when asked which of the venues has given him the most sleepless nights, Ceppi said, “See, I have six kids. We look at the six venues as our six kids. I cannot say which one is the best and which is the worst.”
The final question mark hanging over the eligibility of the venue was a court case in Kochi involving shop owners inside the stadium. As part of security measures for the tournament, the local organising committee had demanded that the shops in the stadium be shut for the duration of the tournament. “With regards of the stadium and the shops around it, basically, that is the responsibility of the stadium owners, in this case the government of Kerala. We were forthcoming in saying that you know what, shops cannot remain open as this is a major security concern,” said Ceppi. The shop owners, almost 234 of them, moved the Kerala High Court against the Greater Cochin Development Authority. Since then, the issue has been solved with the High Court asking the GCDA to adequately compensate the shop owners while the latter shut up the shops for the period between September 25 and October 28. It means that the fans in the venue that is expected to see the largest turnout that could perhaps be second only to Kolkata, can flock the stadium to watch their beloved Brazil play in the group stage.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup starts on Friday, October 6. India’s first match is at 8:00 PM and will be played in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.