KOCHI: The FIFA Under-17 World Cup came visiting Kochi last October promising high-quality action on the field for Kerala’s football enthusiasts. At the same time, with added focus and upgraded infrastructure, the tournament was also expected to lay the groundwork for inspiring and producing future stars of the Beautiful Game from the state.While the World Cup delivered on the pitch with national teams of Brazil, Spain and Germany producing scintillating displays for those gathered at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, doubts will be cast over the tournament’s legacy, since the playing fields renovated for the event, are at various levels of decay.
The four grounds -- the Parade Ground and Veli Ground in Fort Kochi, Maharaja’s College Stadium and the Government Sports Academy Ground in Panampilly Ground -- got the facelift ahead of the sporting event and an amount of around Rs 14 crore was spent to upgrade these training grounds to international standards. Maintaining the grounds after the conclusion of the tournament was always going to be a problem for the authorities concerned. And so it has proved. Barely two months after the curtains came down on the World Cup, finding funds to sustain the playing surface has become difficult for some while others have little idea how to make use of the ground.
Grounded in woes
The Parade Ground, owned by the Revenue Department, is the biggest disappointment among the lot. The ground which has been left to deteriorate after the World Cup is yet to be opened to the public. But recently, children and youngsters from the area have been climbing the fences of the ground to play football and cricket at the ground. The ground was doomed even before the tourney as the Local Organising Committee of the World Cup found it unfit to use. “The playing surface was uneven. The ground was used very minimally during the event and now, the grass has dried up,” said a football administrator.
On slippery ground
The Veli Ground, just around a kilometre from the Parade Ground, is also starting at an ominous future. The ground is still locked from the public and finding a suitor to maintain it has failed. “We wanted to take over and maintain the ground, but the talks fell through in the final stages,” said Charlie P X, the joint secretary of Veli Lions Sports Club.
“The Corporation should be doing something or the ground, as well as the dressing room, will get spoiled. We have demanded them to open the gates of the ground so that the public can make use of the space around the ground for exercise while the locals can also play on the sidelines of the ground with disturbing the renovated playing surface,” said Charlie who demanded the authorities to chalk up a plan to conserve the facility.
Grounded in reality
The facility to hit the jackpot is the Government Sports Academy in Panampilly Nagar. The ground owned by the Kerala State Sports Council housed the Council’s football academy where around 30 trainees are being nurtured. The venue that was in ruins for years before receiving the facelift could have returned to a similar state but was saved by the local Indian Super League side Blasters when they converted the facility into their training base. Blasters have agreed to bear the expense of maintaining the ground for a period of one year -- an arrangement which can be extended next year.
“We were fortunate a deal has been struck with Blasters as it would have been difficult to maintain the renovated ground in the long term. The trainees now use the ground during mornings and evenings while Blasters squad train for an hour or two when they are in the city,” said Ernakulam District Sports Council secretary P Anilkumar. “The grounds have been returned to the respective owners after the World Cup and it should be them who should decide the best way forward for the venues. The Maharaja’s College and Blasters have been doing it well and it is high time others followed suit,” said Sports Council president T P Dasan.
Too costly for maintenance
Meanwhile, the Maharaja’s College recently has doubled the daily rent for subletting the stadium which was previously rented out for Rs 7,300. The reason being that the maintenance of the ground after the World Cup will be burning a hole in the pockets of the college management. However, they are confident they can find the money required for the maintenance as the demand for the ground has not come down. “We were handed back the ground just recently and we are maintaining and watering the grass through a third-party who is also maintaining the Kaloor stadium,” said U O John, the groundsman.
“We will be able to maintain the stadium by renting it out for various events during the next few months. However, the maintenance will be a huge challenge when the events dry up during the offseason,” said Mathews J, head of the college’s Physical Education Department.The Maharaja’s College Stadium will host the zonal leg of the U-15 Youth League featuring youth teams of Kerala Blasters FC, Prodigy Sportz, Kovalam FC, Don Bosco Football Academy and MSP Football Academy, Malappuram from December 18 to 26. “We have more such events lined up until the summer,” said Mathews.