NEW DELHI: On the dedicated microsite that FIFA has for the under-17 World Cup, there is a timer that has been ticking down ever since India 2017 got a starting date. On it, next to the column signifying days, there are two big zeroes.
For the Local Organising Committee of the World Cup, this means that they are just hours away from something that they’ve been working towards for the better part of three years. But not even all that preparation has readied them for what will go on in New Delhi on Friday.
“To be honest, we were prepared for the entire tournament, but not for Friday,” says a member. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence is one big reason why. Modi is scheduled to greet the teams before India’s game and then hold a felicitation function for former captains.
The stadium, on the eve of a World Cup, has been taken over by security. Everything from coins to car keys will be confiscated, so don’t bring any, warns another member. “The World Cup does not start until the Prime Minister exits the stadium,” he jokes.
Meanwhile, the logistics team has been constantly revising the seating arrangements for days. The who’s who of Delhi’s political elite and bureaucracy will be in attendance at JN Stadium on Friday. The visitors’ list has changed multiple times already. And with it, the complicated protocols that govern who sits where. “I’ve lost four kg over the last week or so,” says another LOC member. “The last couple of days, we have been going home at four in the morning.”
For Indian football though, the most important faces in the crowd will be those of FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura and AFC president Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa. Their presence is proof of the growing profile that India boasts within FIFA.
AIFF president Praful Patel has been invited as a special guest to FIFA’s Executive Committee meeting that will be held on the sidelines of the final of the tournament — a rare honour. There is already talk of a U-20 World Cup bid and an Asian Cup bid.
Hosting three major tournaments within a decade would be unprecedented in world football.
Successfully delivering this World Cup will further increase that profile. In the eyes of many FIFA officials, it is a success already. The tournament’s director Javier Ceppi says they are on course to sell out available tickets for opening games at all venues. “If this trend continues, we will perhaps end up breaking attendance records across all FIFA youth tournaments,” he says.
FIFA’s largest social media base now comes from India. Their media experts estimate that the coverage this tournament has attracted is more than 23 times what the last edition in Chile did. And it will only begin on Friday.