With almost 18 months to go to the start of the biggest footballing event in India, the tournament director Javier Ceppi has expressed confidence in his team to pull of the U-17 World Cup without any sort of difficulty.
A FIFA delegation inspected the infrastructure last month, and according to Ceppi, the report from the football’s governing body has been positive. Ceppi, who had previously worked with Chile back in 2013 as the executive director, is confident that India will not be facing similar problems as the South Americans did while hosting the U-17 World Cup.
“India is much better prepared than Chile right now. In Chile the planning was not done in the right manner, there was a huge security issue which got resolved in the last minute and all the stadiums were built in the same way so it was a problem in all the venues there,” the Chilean said.
Fortunately for India that hasn’t been a major issue with all the six stadiums in good shape and the organisers are hopeful that they will be ready by FIFA deadline of October 2016. The tournament director further pointed out that despite India not having the liberty to spend as much as previous hosts UAE and Chile, the planning has been done in the right manner and that there will not be any last minute difficulties.
“I honestly say we are in a much better situation. Even more than UAE where I have worked before. Here funds are a constraint, so we have to be much more cautious regarding the things that are needed and planning needs to be right and can’t wait till the final minutes. In Chile one of the stadiums started its construction 9 months before the final date. Fortunately we haven’t faced any difficulties of that sort here,” Ceppi added.
Speaking on the division of funds between the government and the governing body (AIFF), Ceppi pointed out that both the federation and FIFA do not pay for the expenses incurred in the renovation of the stadiums, and that the burden has to be shared by the stadium owners and the central government. “FIFA and the federation do not fund the renovation of infrastructure. They don’t do it for any country or any tournament. That is considered legacy for the country and the owners of the stadium so it is owners of the facilities that spend money for the renovation and to achieve the right standards.”
While Chile had spent $270m for the entire tournament, those figures will not be matched by India due to their budget constraints. “Central government has marked Rs 95 crore as an assistant to the state government which was approved by the cabinet in 2013 for renovation. The government of India then decides how it will be spread across the states.”
Giving the breakdown of the funds, the state government in Kerala has approved Rs 12.5 crore in addition to the various other sources for the work in the stadiums, Kolkata on the other hand will be spending Rs 60 crore, Mumbai who have a private facility at the DY Patil Stadium are doing it themselves and will not be looking towards government funds.
Goa, who are hosting the AFC U-16 championships later this year, are spending around Rs 6-7 crore for training facilities. Guwahati, who hosted the South Asian Games last month, seem to be on track with the preparations for the U-17 World Cup as well, though the state government are open to spending more in case there is an urgent need.
Despite the government intervention, the preparations for the tournament haven’t taken a setback with Ceppi pointing out that it is their obligation as well to come up with the perfect tournament. “We wouldn’t say we have faced difficulties because at the end of the day the state governments know that it is their contractual obligation as well to get things done on time. This comes as a central assistance. It has been made clear from the very first day that if they are the stakeholders of the venue they need to be ready to get the facilities up to the standards.”
Talking extensively on the infrastructural issues, the Chilean believes that no country barring USA and Australia have the facilities to host the event of such high magnitude in such a short span of time. Giving the examples of Germany, England and France, Ceppi pointed out that all the leading nations will need a lot of renovation as well, so India shouldn’t worry much. “I can say that sitting 20 months from the event, we are in a much better position than what Chile was back in 2013 or Nigeria was when they hosted in 2009. Work has started in all the stadiums except Delhi which will start soon. There are no major renovations which will be needed in all the stadiums. We are working with PWD to ensure that all the renovations are carried out properly,” he said.
Ceppi clarified that it is only the core facilities that need to be completed by the deadline of October 2016. “Core infrastructure are things like dressing rooms, medical room, media tribune, VIP rooms ets. Core infrastructure needs to happen before 2016 and we need to work on those first.”
One of the major talking point has been the condition of the grass in the stadiums and whether it matches the FIFA regulations. While the Indian Super League has played a key role in getting the pitches upto a good level, there are still a few areas where work needs to be completed before satisfactory level is reached.
“We are working with FIFA in what is called the ‘pitch improvement program’. India is one of the seven countries where this program is being tested. The idea behind the program is to increase the efficiency of the groundsmen for the maintenance. This program will hopefully be carried out until the World Cup. Three of the best ground keeping countries in the world are working with FIFA in this program so we have assistance from the best experts in the world. They review the work every month and this is somethings nobody knows. We send them reports every month of the grass length, type of grass and that is collected by the stadium managers of their respective stadiums. That data is analysed by FIFA and they tell what steps need to be taken next,” he concluded.
The regulation of grass according to FIFA standards is 28mm, and apart from Kochi which lack a proper drainage system all other stadiums are well prepared with their outfield conditions.