KOCHI: An opportunity to host a global sporting event leaves in its wake infrastructural development of an unprecedented scale. Having secured the provisional nod as one of the host cities for the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup, Kochi too is poised to redraw its sporting landscape.
While the massive Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium will undergo renovation to fit the bill as a world cup venue, the biggest gift for the football fraternity will come in the form of sparkling training grounds.
The Kerala government is all geared up to make a presentation to FIFA and the Union Government on its preparedness to put in place the facilities stipulated. While the state had already submitted the required papers regarding the Nehru Stadium, documentation relating to the four training grounds too need to be completed.Speaking to City Express, Mohammad Hanish — the state government’s nodal officer for the project — said: “The required documentations are in the final phase of preparation. I will soon be sending a compiled report to FIFA.”
It has also been learnt that the state is working on a few suggestions put forward by the Union Sports Ministry.
Kerala Football Association too is thrilled by the prospects of having multiple venues for the game.
“Things are moving in a very positive direction. Work on the training grounds will be carried out as per the guidance of FIFA experts, some of whom are expected to visit the sites once the documentation process is completed,” said KFA secretary P Anilkumar.
Training Site Agreements have been submitted for three venues — Maharaja’s College Stadium, Ernakulam, Corporation Ground in Veli, Fort Kochi, and Government High School Ground, Panampilly Nagar. The agreement for the fourth venue, the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) Ground, Panangad, is expected to be signed in the next few days.
The KUFOS management had sought a few clarifications regarding the ownership and funding.While a budget of
Rs 44 crore has been prepared for the conduct of the matches at the Nehru Stadium, Rs 12 crore is estimated for the development of the training venues.
The government plan is to have MLAs from Ernakulam — Excise Minister K Babu, Hibi Eden, Benny Behanan and Dominic Presentation - take the development of the venues under their wings. However, the MLAs are yet to know their exact briefs with regard to the requirement at each venue.A FIFA delegation is slated to make an inspection in January 2016, before the FIFA meeting specifically meant for the 2017 Under-17 World Cup is held in February. There will be another FIFA visit in September 2016, after which the venues are supposed to be handed over to the organising committee.
Kochi is set to host six group stage matches, with the possibility of getting a seventh – which could be a knock-out fixture.
Maharaja’s College Stadium
The Maharaja’s College Stadium used to be the most talked about sporting venue in Kerala. That was until the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium came up 19 years ago.
Take a walk now, and it would be difficult to believe that acclaimed World Cup footballers like goalkeeper Rinat Dassaiyev and midfielder Alexei Mikhailchenko of the erstwhile Soviet Union had graced the ground during the Nehru Gold Cup international football tournament in 1985. Members of the Diego Maradona-led Argentina squad that finished runners-up in ‘Italia ‘90’, like goalkeeper Nery Pumpido and midfielder Ricardo Giusti, too have left their imprints here, playing in an exhibition game in the early 1990s.
Kerala’s first ever Santosh Trophy triumph too came at the Maharaja’s, way back in 1973. The floodlights at the stadium were installed the same year while the Nehru Cup was held for the first time here in 1983. After the synthetic athletics track was laid nine years ago, it has primarily become an athletics venue, with national meets being conducted regularly.
Today, the famed turf presents a painful picture. The field is rough and uneven; the drainage system is outdated, and the floodlights are defunct and rusting. The athletics track has almost worn out. The stadium desperately requires a major overhaul to meet the international standards stipulated by FIFA.
However, Kochi MLA Hibi Eden is in the dark as to how to push the ground’s development agenda forward. “There hasn’t been any clear instruction from the government. I am ready to do all that is required to ensure that the ground is ready before the Under-17 World Cup. That includes earmarking an amount from the MLA’s asset development fund,” he said.
Corporation Ground, Veli
The revamp of the Corporation Ground in Veli, Fort Kochi, was supposed to be over at least a year ago.
Fort Kochi MLA Dominic Presentation had allotted Rs 5 crore from his local area development fund in 2013 to renovate the ground to include an 8X400m sprint track, a proper football ground, a pavilion and a fenced enclosure.
Basically, the idea was to turn the ground into a better sports facility and hand it over to the Corporation for the benefit of the public. But the idea still remains as just an idea. The ground today wears the same derelict look it has been wearing for a long time. A high court ban on gravel mining that stifled the availability of gravel to raise and even its surface is cited as the reason for the project still stumbling on square one.
However, now the MLA insists that the ground will be ready in the next 10 months. “We will use the same Rs 5 crore fund (earmarked two years ago) to revamp the ground for the under-17 World Cup. If gravel continues to remain difficult to get, we will buy sand from the Cochin Port Trust,” he said.
A meeting involving the representatives of the Kerala Football Association, the Kochi Corporation and ground experts will be convened soon to rework the two-year-old project so that it suits the FIFA specifications. The work will begin immediately after that, the MLA said.
Govt HS Ground, Panampilly Nagar
Even before the Under-17 World Cup was allotted to Kochi, the government had big plans for the Government High School Ground in Panampilly Nagar. The state sports department aimed to turn into a sports complex and has earmarked Rs 11 crore for it. It, according to the sports ministry, is a long term plan.
But now that the run up to the U-17 spectacle is governed by strict deadlines, the government is expected to draw up a separate but expedited plan for the development of a football field here first. This would be a precursor to the sports complex project.
Thrikkakara MLA Benny Behanan said, “The work will begin after the Assembly by-election in Aruvikkara constituency. The outlay and other details of it will be finalised soon. Anyway, the football ground will be finished before November next year, meeting all the specifications stipulated by FIFA.”
Kufos Ground, Panangad
The Kerala Cricket Association has offered to turn the ground into a top class cricket-cum-football ground half way into 2016, as part of its ambitious cricket development plans.
KCA signed an MoU in this regard with the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, which owns the ground, last year. As per the terms, the cricket association will level the ground, provide a grass covering, prepare cricket pitches and erect a pavilion, leaving enough provisions to double it up as a football facility as well.
The contract is for a period of 25 years. After the completion of the project, the KCA will permit the public to use the stadium without charging any fee. Besides, the pitch work, KCA will initiated steps to erect a fence around the ground and install a sprinkler watering system. The maintenance and its cost will also be borne by the cricket association.
Meanwhile, Fisheries Minister and Tripunithura MLA K Babu, who is expected to be in charge of the ground for the U-17 World Cup, is yet to be informed of what he is supposed to do with the ground. “All I know is that this is one of the training grounds for the upcoming Under-17 World Cup. Beyond that, I have had no official communication on what has to be done there ahead of the event,” he said.
FIFA’s conditions for training grounds
World-class playing surfaces
state-of-the-art drainage facilities to guarantee a quick flow of rainwater
Fencing around the ground
well-equipped dressing rooms with allied facilites
Floodlights to enable training in a cool environment
Besides, A Legacy plan is in the pipeline to make available renovated venues to local players