Left red-faced after a stinging assessment by a FIFA team on their readiness to host the U-17 World Cup matches, the local organisers in Kochi on Sunday vowed to keep the stadium ready before the deadline set by FIFA.
A FIFA team last week had expressed “deep concern” over the pace of work at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, one of the six venues selected to host matches in October, and set May 15 as deadline for completing the work.
Jamie Yarza, FIFA’s head of events and who led the inspection team, had issued a veiled ultimatum to speed up work on a war footing if the venue wants to host the World Cup matches.
The venue was later allotted six Group matches, one Round of 16 and one quarterfinal match.
FIFA’s concerns were mainly on two issues. The first is the security risks to the players, officials and fans because of the stores inside the stadium complex and the installation of bucket seats at the 55,000-capacity stadium, which is mandatory for any venue hosting FIFA tournaments or matches.
Yarza had made it clear during the visit that these stores will have to be removed or closed down. Some of these stores have even generators and fuel tanks, which is a grave safety and security concern.
Hanish Mohammed, the nodal officer posted by Kerala government to speed up work at the stadium the local organisers have been working on war footing and he is certain to finish work before the May 15 deadline.
He said the Kerala government had submitted a written assurance to the FIFA team as well as the Sports Ministry that all the renovation work will be complete and concerns of the world body will be resolved.
“We have speeded up the renovation and other works at the main stadium, we are working on a war footing. We can’t fail the football loving people of Kerala. We are 100 per cent sure that all the renovation work as directed by the FIFA team will be completed before the deadline,” Mohammed told PTI.
“We are going to close down the stores inside the stadium complex and we are going to remove the generators and fuel tanks. We are in the process of doing these things. We are certain that we will do these before May 15. “We have given a written assurance to the FIFA team and the government of India that all the renovation work at the stadium according to the plans of the world body will be finished by May 15 deadline. We will also complete the installation of bucket seats all over the stadium,” said the senior IAS officer.
“So, there should not be any further issue and I am sure Kochi will host the World Cup matches in October and it will be a successful one with people of Kerala enjoying them.”
The Director of the Local Organising Committee, which looks after the overall organisation of the tournament in the country, Javier Ceppi also exuded confidence that Kochi will meet the deadline.
“I am very confident that Kochi will resolve the concerns raised by the FIFA team. We at the LoC are making our own preparation thinking that Kochi will stage the World Cup matches,” he said.
Asked if he can share any Plan B in case Kochi misses the May 15 deadline, “That time (of thinking about Plan B) has not come yet. As of present, I say Kochi is and will be a World Cup venue. There is no need to think about a Plan B. That will be jumping the gun.”