FIFA U-17 World Cup: Hope the juniors can provide some spark

Whether Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium will be packed with spectators for the matches remains to be seen.

 |  Gloves Off  |  4-minute read |   01-10-2017
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There is huge hope and hype over India hosting the FIFA under-17 World Cup from next week at home. From Kochi to Goa and Kolkata to Mumbai, you can expect big crowds to show up. But to imagine New Delhi’s famous Nehru Stadium witness packed stands is asking for too much.

This is festive time at home. Saturday was Dussehra and from here till Deepavali, there will be crowds all over in peak shopping season. In a way, this is a good time to host the junior World Cup.

Yet, to imagine the latest extravaganza will bring good news to Indian football on a large scale remains to be seen. There are two schools of thought on India hosting big-ticket international sporting events.

Seven years ago, almost at the same time, New Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games. Though India did well in it, it’s remembered more for its scams and scandals. When the ticket selling system went for a toss in the CWG, there was a furore at home. And when the CWG organising committee doled out free tickets, there was massive outrage.

To be sure, ticket sales for the FIFA World Cup in centres outside Delhi have been good. This is on expected lines. Yet, to think that the Capital’s Nehru Stadium will be packed to the rafters sounds unrealistic.

India begins its campaign against USA on October 6. This is a big match for the hosts and could well define what happens in the tournament. In events like these, there are no easy groups. So, for India to match Ghana and Colombia could be asking for too much.

Quite often, there are debates whether India should host big sports events at home. As far as football goes, our standard, even in Asia, is very low. Yet, there is hype. We have soccer leagues and the less said about it the better.

From the government side, the expenditure on the FIFA under- 17 World Cup is budgeted at close to Rs 130 crore. State governments have also loosened their purse strings so that venues can be refurbished. Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium has apparently spent Rs 100 crore on renovation, with maximum funds coming from the state.

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Considering the state of the economy in Bengal and their love for football, nobody minds the splurge. This is a state, just like Kerala, where football is a big craze. Obviously, they will line up to see the foreign teams as India will be playing all their matches in New Delhi.

Why India has to play all matches in the Capital, without doubt, the lousiest sporting city in the country, is baffling. How the boys soak in the pressure will be interesting to watch. From the government funding, almost Rs 30 crores have been spent on the team in the last three years.

The joke is, the juniors have thick and fat passports as they have travelled so frequently abroad. They need to show mettle and hope that it’s worth blowing all this money on them and infrastructure.

The point is nobody really cares much about an under-17 FIFA World Cup abroad. If you think this event will work like magic on Indian football, you have to be a big optimist. Sport and pessimism do not go together, so if India can win even one point from three league matches, it could be seen as a plus.

Will the event provide an impetus to Indian football needs to be seen. Certainly, more footballs are being sold and even at the entry level in colleges of Delhi University, football trial turnouts have shown more numbers in attendance.

More quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. As a nation which likes to watch sports on television, football’s popularity is big. If you ask today’s teenage football fans name of superstars who rock leagues in Europe, names will come in a pronto. Ask the same football lovers names of six Indians who will play for India in the under-17 World Cup, you could draw a blank!

European football league and other leagues shown on cable and dish at home have fan following because of the quality of contest and the way it’s marketed. In India, many sports are being marketed aggressively. It includes football and even basketball. Yet, this has not resulted in improving the standard of our own football and basketball.

Viewed positively, India hosting the FIFA under-17 World Cup is seen as a big positive. Well, that’s purely from the organisational perspective. The focus is now on the Indian team. Should they fail to impress, we can expect stories on how so much tax-payers’ money was wasted.

 (Courtesy of Mail Today.)

 

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S Kannan S Kannan @kannandelhi

Sports columnist.

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