There was a buzz of anticipation on the night of 4 December 2013, but it was tempered with caution. Hours later, the international football association, FIFA, shared its decision through a tweet. It became official: India would be hosting the 2017 edition of the U-17 World Cup. But nobody knew what to expect. Would organisers—who had originally failed to secure the guarantees FIFA requires from any potential hosts—ruin it for the football-hungry populace? Will this chance be thrown into the bin? Will the stadia be completed in time? Will the new infrastructure hold? These were some of the questions on the morning of December 6.
All of them were answered in stunning fashion over the last three weeks. It has been an immensely successful event, with over 1.3 million flocking to the matches—an attendance record. There have been a couple of potential flashpoints—the opening night in New Delhi could have been better and there were cases of volunteers profiting by selling complimentary tickets. But that’s about it. This World Cup showed India had the resources, know-how and the infrastructure to pull off a FIFA event.
However, the hard yards begin now for India’s football body, the AIFF. The sponsors will slink away and corporate interest will go back to the franchises. The onus now falls on the governing body to utilise the new-found momentum. If they play their next cards well (bidding for the U-20 World Cup is a start), there could be tangible change.
But if they decide to rest on their laurels rather than promote the sport, all this goodwill will be lost. Because unlike cricket, football is a global sport and it has the potential to bind the whole world together. It’s up to the AIFF to continue with the legacy. There will not be a bigger dampener than the India U-17 team’s players fading into oblivion. We don’t want to see the players spending time idly and in penury. They must be taken care of. Otherwise, everything the event promised would vaporise into nothingness.