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The guard at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium compares the scene on Thursday evening to the one seven years ago. Around this time, in 2010, the stadium was a symbol of everything that was going wrong with the Commonwealth Games — a race against the clock to get the stadium ready. Today, aside from some work that’s being carried out just near the main entrance, the venue is ready.
One week before the under-17 World Cup, India is staring at an unusual scenario — the venues are ready. There’s no last-minute push to get things done and barring the tiff in Kochi — with shopkeepers protesting against having to down the shutters of establishments built within the stadium complex — everything seems to have fallen into place.
The under-17 World Cup might not be of the same magnitude as the multi-discipline event. But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is desperate for a smooth conduct, which they hope will help them in bidding successfully for future tournaments, with the 2019 Under-20 World Cup being their next target.
A lot of focus has been on infrastructure. For decades, the country’s footballers have moaned the absence of training facilities, having to make do with dusty and uneven surfaces. However, 17 new training sites have been developed across the six host cities.
Bermuda grass has been imported from USA and Australia, sand has been acquired from remote villages and underground water tanks with a capacity of one lakh litre have been installed at these sites. “The overall infrastructure of the country has been improved to be at par with the international standards, which will benefit Indian football immensely,” AIFF president Praful Patel recently said. The maintenance of these venues after the tournament, though, remains the biggest question.
A sports ministry official said they have spent Rs 120 crore on the infrastructure in five out of the six host cities. Since the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai is a private venue, the government did not contribute to its refurbishment. The Navi Mumbai Sports Association has claimed to have spent Rs 4 crore to redevelop the main stadium and an additional Rs 3.35 crore on the practice ground. A source said the West Bengal government, too, did not take any financial assistance from the centre owing to the tiff between the TMC and BJP.
The Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, which will host the final, has been refurbished at a cost of over Rs 100 crore according to the state government. Kochi has spent Rs 12.5 crore at the stadium renovation plus Rs 13-14 crore for training sites, according to LOC director Javier Ceppi, while has Goa invested about Rs 15-20 crore on training sites.
FIFA’s head of events Jaime Yarza had recently said the infrastructure created for this tournament would be one of its biggest legacies. “From an organisational point of view, we want to leave the right legacy in the football structures of the country – better sport managers, better stadia and better training sites. All of this should and will benefit football in India in the years to come,” Yarza had said.