The FIFA under-17 World Cup is finally upon us. With just 48 hours to go, it has been a quiet story without major glitches so far. This is not insignificant, considering India’s record of hosting major sporting events. The 2011 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi was dotted with organising errors and scams. In the upcoming event, there have been noises about work on stadiums not meeting deadlines, but organisers have not allowed it to evolve into a crisis.
One of the major reasons for this has been how the Local Organising Committees—put together by FIFA experts with experience of working on such tournaments—have gone about things. While they had the support of the All India Football Federation, the team headed by Javier Ceppi adopted a specific strategy while dealing with the six centres.
They worked to ensure full support of the state governments and did not allow the state associations much room to interfere. It ruffled feathers in places. The Goa Football Association has said it will ‘boycott’ the tournament. Officials in the state body of Assam have also complained. Neither incident affected preparations, nor did the protest by shop owners inside the stadium complex in Kochi.
The FIFA team also introduced some much-needed professionalism into how venues are managed in India. Previously, the focus was mostly on cramming in as many spectators as possible, with little or no attention to comfort and safety. FIFA officials cut down the capacities to meet global standards. From over a lakh, it is 66,000 in Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium. New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is down to 40,000, from 60,000.
While everything has gone reasonably well so far, the biggest test will commence when the World Cup starts. Organisers may have to encounter problems they have not planned for. But given the way they have gone about it, odds will be in favour of the first ever World Cup in India going smoothly.