KOCHI: It has been a while since Kochi started being tagged as a venue for the 2017 FIFA under-17 world cup slated to be held in India. Nothing is as yet official, although the commercial capital of Kerala has received a provisional nod as one of six host cities.
“There is some way to go,” as Javier Ceppi, the All-India Football Federation-appointed tournament director, keeps reminding almost every time he pays a visit down south.
While alarm bells have not exactly started ringing on the possibility of the city missing out on the biggest football spectacle ever to have been allotted to the country, the terribly slow pace of infrastructural work is certainly worrisome.
It has been two years since FIFA deputy director of competitions Inaki Alvarez made the first big inspection of the city for the global event. While acknowledging the state's tradition and passion for football, the Spaniard had categorically stated: “With the world cup, the big thing is the infrastructure.”
Two years down the line though, very little has changed, although a delegation led by FIFA head of events Jamie Yarza had expressed satisfaction on the “foundation” laid for hosting FIFA's flagship event at the junior level. But the interest is yet to trickle down to implementation level with any intensity. Forget removing the cricket wickets in the middle of the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, its owner - the Greater Cochin Development Authority - is still to select a pitch consultant for the upgradation of the playing surface at the venue to FIFA standards. After just a single party, reportedly from Goa, showed interest for the first tender that closed on February 25, the GCDA has now floated a fresh tender to draw interest from global firms.
“We could not move forward as per original plans as only one company expressed interest,” GCDA chairman N Venugopal told Express, while conceding that the selection of consultants has taken a bit of time.
“The fresh tender was floated a few days ago, and we expect responses from international firms this time. The tender process is likely to be completed before the end of March, and the consultants are expected to return with their designs and suggestions in April.”
Apart from the playing surface, consultants need to be selected for firefighting and sewerage system upgradations. And, along with the renovation of the main venue, four training venues too have to be renovated to FIFA standards. Meanwhile, Mohammad Hanish - the Kerala Government's Nodal Officer for the project - is worried over the delay in getting the Rs 24.88 crore sanctioned for the under-17 world cup released from the Central Government.
“My primary objective is to get the Nehru Stadium renovated by September 30, because thereafter the stadium will have to be released for the Indian Super League. That would leave us with very little time. The immediate requirement is to get the Rs 24.88 crore sanctioned by the union government as soon as possible. We are on target to fulfil all requirements, but we need to move fast from here on,” Hanish said, adding that he had written to the Sports Secretary on Saturday requesting a speedy release of the said amount.
The perennial achilles’ heel of kochi
The past editions of major national tournaments, along with international tournaments like the Nehru Cup, have faced a singular problem in Kochi - the lack of quality training venues. No less than four dedicated grounds measuring up to international specifications are required for a city to earn the right to host World Cup matches. The condition of the Maharaja’s College Stadium, KUFOS Ground, Panangad, Corporation Ground, Veli in Fort Kochi and Government Sports Hostel Ground, Panampilly Nagar - unkempt as they are - doesn’t exactly strike a chord with international expectations. They need to be raised by filling sand and provided with top class drainage systems before work on the playing surface can begin. The availability of filling earth/sand is a tricky issue these days, which may require special permission from the government.
Long way for kick-off
- Rs 24.88 crore has been sanctioned for the renovation of the Nehru Stadium, but the amount is yet to be released.
- Apart from playing field, sewerage, fire-fighting system, chairs, dressing rooms, VIP areas, pathways, media centre, security centre and the parking spaces among aspects to be upgraded.
- Work on the football field at Nehru Stadium slated to be completed by September 30, before the next Indian Super League season.
- Under FIFA stipulations, the infrastructure needs to be handed over to the global body six months before the world cup tentatively scheduled to be held in the September-October window in 2017.