MADGAON: There is barely a year left for the biggest football tournament India has ever hosted, with the U-17 World Cup due in October 2017. Right from when the tournament was announced, the question was whether India could deliver, particularly in light of what happened with the 2011 Commonwealth Games.
Javier Ceppi, though, is a calm man. The Chilean, tournament director of the U-17 World Cup, has organised high-profile events in three continents and is confident that India will be ready in time. Ceppi sat down with Express to give a detailed overview of what has been done at various venues and what needs to be done.
How prepared are the various venues?
It’s been a process of making the stakeholders understand that we actually need things in place before the last minute, which is something that has not been easy. That process took about an year and a half, to get everybody to start working, particularly in infrastructure. The JN Stadium (Goa) is almost ready. It’s 95 per cent done — just the minor things like lights are getting improved.
In Kochi, they are working on all the functional areas. Games there were being played without the (fire (department) NOC. This is mandatory for the World Cup. They need to change the whole electrical system. It’s a necessary lift-up for a stadium where little has been done since 1996. Navi Mumbai is very straightforward, it’s almost ready. New Delhi, the work hasn’t started, so that I would say is the least prepared. Guwahati, some of the works have started, some of it will be carried out post ISL. We still have a bunch of work to do, mostly on the operations front.
Teams playing in the Asian U-16 Championships have been complaining about travelling long distance for practice and matches. Is it an issue?
Usually this type of tournaments are held over different venues. Here we are catering to 16 teams in Goa itself. It’s geographically restrictive because they need to train on good grounds. So ravelling time will take longer than what they are used to. or the World Cup, it will be different. First, all the teams will be in one hotel and we’ll use that hotel as the starting point to all the training sites. No training site will be more than 15km from the hotel, same with the stadium.
Are you happy with the work being done on the practice pitches at the various venues?
The practice grounds need to be delivered by the end of March 2017. Goa is hosting the AFC U-16 and has all the practice grounds ready. But they will need maintenance and a bit of rectifying work. In Guwahati, three out of four pitches have been completed. Kochi has yet to start the work on all the four training sites. That is somewhat a concerning situation. We have identified the four grounds and they should be issuing the tenders for renovation by the end of this month. That would at least set the process going.
In Kolkata, it’s a straightforward situation. We have two grounds within the stadium compound. We have two grounds right outside the stadium. You have the hotel right next to the stadium too. I don’t think FIFA has seen anything like that. In Navi Mumbai, work has started on three out of the four grounds. In New Delhi, there is one ground where work should start by October 6. Another ground needs a lot of work. The other two grounds, we are finding it somewhat complicated to secure them. We are looking at many different options.
If you could point out one venue that really needs to get going, which one would that be?
I don’t compare between venues. I try to compare within venues, what it was like before and what it is like now. Goa has most of the core infrastructure in place now. Kolkata has improved a lot. Navi Mumbai, the core infrastructure is almost there and it needs a bit of work. Kochi needs to improve and Delhi also needs a lot of work.
Has there been a discussion on where semis and the finals will be held?
Nothing has been confirmed. The match schedule will likely come out in the first quarter of 2017. The marquee matches – opening match, quarters, semis and final — will be given to venues based on two principles. One is readiness and the other is willingness. We will look more positively at venues where we have been working with state governments on strategies on how to fill up the stadiums. For the WC, the stadium with the least capacity (in Goa) can hold 19,000. In Chile last time, only two venues could hold more than that. So it is important that the stadiums be filled.