KOCHI: October 19, 2016, was a special day for football aficionados across Kochi and Kerala. The city’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was ratifed by FIFA, thus becoming the first Indian venue to be confirmed as a host for the Under-17 World Cup.
However, the last 150 days hasn’t gone to plan and FIFA, on Friday, left the city with a shake of the head and soundbites which included words like ‘miracle’ and ‘concern’. As Express reported on Thursday, FIFA feel that Kochi’s work so far has been disappointing.
“We are deeply concerned about the state of renovation. I was here last February and, to be honest, while some work has happened, it’s by far not enough,” said Jaime Yarza, the body’s head of tournaments. “We have now set May 15 as the new deadline and hope things would be in place by then. We will see how the situation develops.”
This isn’t one of those typical stories that gets traction a few months before a major event. It seems to be a genuine concern for FIFA, who planted red flags everywhere when asked to point out the areas of concern.
“All areas are under concern,” was Yarza’s frank assessment. “We have started work but none of them are complete. Working area is not fully done. Installation of fire-fighting machines is going on... basically no work in the stadium has been completed,” he said.
Another area which left the FIFA team unhappy was the operation of stores inside the main stadium building. “From a security point of view, they need to be closed. Some of the shops have fuel tanks. Since we are responsible for the safety of people, we can’t allow a security breach to happen. We can’t have 50000 people in the stadium when the stores are operational. We had conveyed this to the state government two-and-a-half-years ago.”
While Javier Ceppi, the tournament director, sang from the same hymn sheet, he remained convinced in Kochi’s ability to perform a ‘miracle’ with respect to turning things around. “Miracles can happen. And I’ve seen it happen here in Kochi. When I was here in March, there was no match referee dressing room. Two weeks later, it was there. That’s a miracle and those things won’t happen elsewhere.”
The FIFA team will be moving to Guwahati and Kolkata to carry out inspections there in the next few days. As far as is Kochi is concerned, the clock is ticking.