GOA: If you want to know exactly what goes into hosting a major FIFA event, you just have to observe Jamie Yarza, FIFA’s head of tournaments. He is here to inspect venues for the upcoming U-17 World Cup and was spotted having a lengthy chat with fellow officials. The topic? Where to place ice bins for players. That is how much every minute detail is paid attention to.
In an exclusive interview with Express, the Spaniard discusses how every city seems to be doing well except one, and India’s prospects of hosting future events.
India doesn’t exactly have the best of records with regards to hosting major tournaments. Was there risk involved when FIFA awarded the event?
There was always a risk. But there was much more to win, because when the then president (Sepp Blatter) described India as a sleeping giant, it was true. The idea was to grow football in the country, and to take it back to the golden ages of the 50s and 60s. It was a logical continuation of all programs we had done with the AIFF, like the Win In India with India and Goal projects. It really is a long-term plan, all development programs heading into the World Cup. After that, we’re hoping the legacy will help make the country’s football great again.
With six months left, how happy are you with preparations?
We are pretty satisfied. Most requirements are being met. Maybe they’re not all finalised, but the deadlines we gave were very demanding. When we say six months before, the reality is if you have to paint and do cosmetic changes, then it is better done at a later stage. But it was important to keep the deadline to evaluate the support of the state government and other authorities, and to see how interested they were. They’ve shown huge interest.
Are there areas that you are not happy with?
Till now, in Delhi and Goa, we’re pretty satisfied. They’re doing all that we’ve requested. But there seems to be, according to reports, one city that has some more delays. But we’ll only say when we see it.
FIFA has experience of hosting events in Nigeria, which like India, is not known for football infrastructure. Relative to those, how has the India experience been?
I hate comparing two countries. When we appointed Nigeria, it was also two years before the tournament. For India, it was five years before. Also in India, you can have good stadiums for cricket converted for football — for example, we’re using one — and in other countries, we don’t even have that. India is doing a great job. Again, except one city where we are a little bit more concerned.
Is the ‘one city’ Kochi?
(laughs) I’ll talk about it when I see it. Right now, we only know about it from reports by Local Organising Committee.
During the Asian U-16 Championships, many coaches had a problem with travel time between hotels and grounds. Has this been discussed?
Yes, we’ve discussed in detail the transportation plan, and type of vehicles to use. Big buses, for example, cannot be used in Goa because they take too much time. Roads here are narrow and you have trees falling onto the streets. We’ve also discussed hotel locations. It shouldn’t take more than 20-25 minutes to get to the stadium.
What do you think this tournament’s legacy will be?
There are lots of layers to the legacy we expect. We’ll have 24 training sites all over the country with top-level facilities, which can be used by young sportspersons. The influence that these can have in people, to come up with similar facilities, cannot be calculated. These facilities are a mirror where others can see what can be done. The refurbishments at the stadium, we hope, will be used by football teams after the meet. There is also the knowledge that such a project brings. Passing through the experience of organising a World Cup gives you knowledge of conducting sporting events in future. We’ll have better administrators, better project managers and better facilities.
If the U-17 WC goes well, will FIFA consider giving India more tournaments?
That is a possibility. It’s not only the fact that they do the World Cup well. It’s the learning process, and the development that should come together in years to come. As India becomes a bigger nation in Asian and world football, I’m sure there would be opportunities to host other events.