KOCHI: It was last Sunday that the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata was handed over to the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the FIFA U-17 World Cup so that they could conduct the necessary last minute arrangements. Tournament director Javier Ceppi, during the function, told that the stadium appeared like a museum or the lobby of a five-star hotel. All the venues were expected to follow Kolkata’s lead: Finish the work in style and let the LOC takeover.
However, on Friday, five days after the Kolkata ceremony, things are in a precarious state in Kochi. Owners of business establishments at the Jawaharlal Nehru International stadium’s commercial complex have refused to down their shutters and have moved the Kerala High Court challenging the closure notice issued to them by the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), who owns the stadium.
The GCDA had asked the owners to close their shops from September 15 to October 25. This was done as per FIFA instructions as they felt that security would be compromised if business establishments that even store hazardous materials like fuel are allowed to operate when the event is on. However, 44 shop owners moved the court challenging the closure notice saying that if businesses were disrupted, they would be forced to pay damages to their customers. More than 200 shops operate in the commercial complex situated at the outer circle of the stadium.
The shop owners also alleged that move to close the shops was against the specific clause in the lease deed signed between the GCDA and shop owners. The Court asked the State government and GCDA to consider the plight of the tenants and to find out a solution. The FIFA officials had earlier pointed out that they want the shops to remain closed at least 10 days prior to the start of the competition to the end and this was the Standard Operating Procedure across all six venues.
One of the shop owners, who runs a confectionary, told Express that he would incur heavy losses if the shop has to remain closed for almost one-and-a-half-months. “I have to pay the workers their salary and have to cater to the regular customers. So, closing down for almost 45 days is impractical,” he said
The LOC chose to remain vague issuing a statement that said: “We have a contract with GCDA regulating the use of the JNI Stadium for the FIFA U-17 World Cup tournament and we have been given assurances by the State Government of Kerala that all contractual commitments and obligations will be respected.” But Express understands that the contract that FIFA signed with GCDA specifically states that shops have to be closed, meaning games cannot take place in the city, if the court rules to the contrary. The hearing will continue on Saturday.