Delhi’s toxic air continues to be a headache for FIFA, who will rely on the conclusions of its medical department before deciding whether the city is fit to host marquee knockout matches of this year’s under-17 World Cup. FIFA’s head of tournaments Jaime Yarza said they are aware of Delhi’s acute pollution problem, which becomes a ‘bigger concern after Diwali’. He added the decision on the number of matches Delhi gets to host will depend on the findings of their medical board, which is currently studying the pollution patterns with the assistance of Indian doctors. The Local Organising Committee (LOC) has sought data from the Central Pollution Control Board, which is also being analysed by FIFA.
“FIFA is aware (of the problem). We are concerned. We have our doctors, we have a very big medical department and they are monitoring all the issues. We know it’s a concern, and after Diwali a bigger concern,” Yarza said. “So we will have doctors from India, who work with FIFA. They will give their conclusions and deliberations very soon. When we have it and know better the influence that pollution might have on young athletes, we will be in a better state (to decide match allocation).”
Tournament director, LOC, Javier Ceppi reiterated that even though pollution is a concern, Delhi will not be stripped of hosting rights. “According to the data we have from the Central Pollution Control Board, the air quality is decent during the first two weeks of October, pre-Diwali,” Ceppi said. “(But) we all live in Delhi and know what happens post-Diwali. So that’s what we are analysing and are working closely with the government and Central Pollution Control Board.”
Delhi is one of the six cities scheduled to host matches of the U-17 World Cup, to be held from October 6 to 28. Diwali falls on October 19, which is when the business end of the tournament – the knockout rounds – will be underway.
Venues partially complete
Pollution isn’t the only concern for FIFA. The matches in Delhi will be played at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which is behind schedule in terms of preparation. Yarza led an eight-member FIFA team, which began its week-long inspection of all venues that will host the tournament. Three out of the six venues have been urged to speed up work after they were found running behind schedule.
Yarza said work at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium needed ‘a lot of improvement’ while Ceppi added that Kolkata and Kochi too have not met the deadline set by FIFA. However, they allayed concerns of any serious delay that might hamper the tournament.
“There has been improvement, work has been done. (But) it’s important to know we don’t have much time. There’s a lot of improvement needed and work to be done here in Delhi. I encourage all the authorities to… maybe work with stronger pace and deliver what is required at a FIFA world cup,” Yarza said.
Yarza admitted FIFA was concerned about the situation but was confident that the new deadlines will be met. The three venues have been given time till end of April to get the core infrastructure in place. At Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, work at the training ground — where the surface is being relaid — dressing rooms, dope control room, and other competition areas is only partially complete.
Ceppi said the venue met the minimum requirements set by FIFA. “But Delhi cannot settle for minimum core requirements,” he said. “The stadium was beautifully built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and we need to bring back that splendour.”
The bigger concerns are at Kochi and Kolkata, which are undergoing large-scale refurbishment projects.
However, no venues have been kept on standby, with Yarza saying they are ‘satisfied in principle’ with the progress. “It should have been ready by now but there have been some delays. In any case, it was a demanding deadline and we understand that,” Yarza said. “There is a lot of work being done and there will be a lot of more work in the future. They just need to speed up a little more. Everything will be alright.”