CHENNAI: In just over a year, India will host the seventh edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup. While it is normally an event that passes under the radar, the fact that India is hosting it after organising one of the best U-17 World Cups ever means that the bigwigs at FIFA will be looking on keenly.Unlike the 2017 tournament, where a mostly-local organising committee received assistance from experienced FIFA professionals, the U-17 WWC will be headed completely by Indians. Helming the effort as tournament director — the first Indian in this post at a FIFA event — is Roma Khanna, who was head of venues operations in 2017.
In a chat with this newspaper, she spoke about the challenges of organising the tournament and how it will see a lot of women leading behind the scenes as well. Excerpts:
|What are some of the unique challenges in organising the U-17 WWC? As someone involved in the men’s U-17 WC, how much can you draw from that experience?
To execute the first FIFA tournament in the country was a very special moment for everyone involved. There are so many learnings from U-17 WC, the most important of which is that there is a lot of passion for the game, and consequently, a lot of scope for it. While it is a fact that women’s football is not as popular and is still in a very nascent stage in the country, the upcoming U-17 WWC is the right platform to show the Indian public the best of women’s football.
The WWC in France was a huge success and that made people notice the quality of the women’s game. It also highlighted these athletes as very special role models. The image of Megan Rapinoe striking a pose will be etched in our minds for long. The event was also very successful commercially, which proves that a lot of the market is untapped.
|When can we expect all the host cities to be confirmed? Bhubaneswar has already been finalised while Ahmedabad is also under consideration. Is this a conscious effort to take the tournament to cities that are traditionally not football hubs?
We have a FIFA inspection scheduled for end of November and are planning to confirm venues within that time frame. This tournament is about reaching and connecting with people and introducing them to women’s football. We want to not just take the tournament to the traditional centres of football, and in particular women’s football, but also showcase the game in cities actively looking to promote football. This includes the new venues — Bhubaneswar and Ahmedabad. We are very happy to see the excitement exhibited at these new proposed venues.
|How important is the fact that a lot of women are going to be involved in running the tournament?
Our team consists of an efficient and diverse mix of voices who are extremely competent and committed to ensuring that this historic moment is a success. I am extremely proud to be working alongside these professionals. Going ahead, it is important to us that women play an important part in executing the tournament. We are mindful that very few women have risen to the top of sports organisations in leadership roles. Now with the U-17 WWC, we are going to see a very distinct scenario wherein women are not only leading on the field but also behind the scenes.
|What do you hope this tournament’s legacy will be? The 2017 event had legacy programmes like Mission XI Million. Will there be something similar for this as well?
Our programme was fixed around the duration of the tournament, but now our legacy programme will run beyond that. We are working towards a sustainable legacy that meets the present’s needs and protects our future. Based on this and broader principles of ‘education and inclusion’, we are working with shortlisted venues to create a more customised model that works towards the long term development of women’s youth football and capacity-building programmes for coaches and referees. We want to engage local communities with support from state governments to increase participation of girls at a young age and specific programmes for that are underway.