LNTUP

Kochi’s host status for U-17 World Cup under threat

Photo: FIFA
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FIFA officials clearly unhappy with the work at Kochi and give a deadline.

A team of FIFA delegates is on a visit to India to inspect the status of the projected six venues for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in the month of October.

The team first arrived at Goa but they stumbled upon when the delegation reached their second destination, the southernmost venue of the tournament-Kochi. The FIFA officials were clearly unsatisfied with the progress of work in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi and expressed their ‘Deep concern’ on this issue.

Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, the future in dark clouds
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, the future in dark clouds

The 21 member team mainly consisted of FIFA delegates and Local Organizing Committee(LOC) members. The LOC is made up of- A.P.M. Mohammad Hanish (IAS & Nodal Officer, Govt. of Kerala), K.M.I. Mather (Vice-president, AIFF), TP Dasan(President, Kerala Sports Council), A.C. Moideen(Minister of Industries, Sports and Youth Affairs, Govt. of Kerala) and Joy Bhattacharya(Project Director, LOC).

In the press conference, mainly Javier Ceppi(The Tournament Director) and Jaime Yarza(FIFA Head of Events) responded to the queries of the media. Although Ceppi maintained a moderate tone but Yarza clearly expressed his (their) annoyance and has also given Kochi a deadline of May 15!

Yarza said,”It’s unfortunate, the state that JNI Stadium in Kochi is currently, needless to say if we want the ground to play a host to a WC, we need the authorities to step up now”. He added,”The venue has a very strong football culture and it would be a matter of great shame if we don’t manage to fulfil the requirements in time.”

Yarza was clearly unhappy at the lack of progress of work in JNI Stadium and also indirectly criticised the local authority saying,”I was there last February and, to be honest, while some work has happened, it’s by far not enough, which is a matter of deep concern. The state Govt. must get involved, give us an unrestricted support and understand the urgency of the situation, because there are a lot of changes that need to be made to the stadium.”

Javier Ceppi (on left) maintained moderate tone but Jaime Yarza(on right) expressed annoyance
Javier Ceppi (on left) maintained moderate tone but Jaime Yarza(on right) expressed annoyance

The FIFA Head of Events has now given Kochi a deadline as he told in a serious note,”The work needs to be done by 15th May and given the large amount of renovation that must happen, works have to go on full speed. Also, the situation of the stores is quite concerning; from a security standpoint, they cannot be opened during the tournament. There are stores with fuel tanks, which is a grave safety and security concern.”

Yarza concluded saying,”I am considerably happy with the preparations put in at the training sites, but the main ground remains a matter of great concern.”

Javier Ceppi, the Tournament Director expressed his annoyance as he said,”Over the past month, there has been a decent amount of work that has been done in Kochi. Unfortunately, it is well-known fact that almost no work could happen last year while ISL was happening and that has had an impact on the renovation timelines for the stadium.”

He sounded optimist as he said,”We are confident that the state government will honour it’s commitment and that pending infrastructure work will be completed as soon as possible” and thus tactically pushed the ball to the court of Govt. of Kerala.

Kochi to host Indian Super League Grand Finale

Like Yarza, Ceppi brought in the emotional aspect of the Kerala masses regarding football as he went on to add,”The enthusiasm that we have seen from football fans in Kerala about hosting the event is remarkable and we hope that they all turn up for the World Cup matches in October.”

The team of FIFA delegates will now travel to Navi Mumbai first and then Guwahati. Their inspection tour will conclude at the Saltlake Stadium, Kolkata.

Kerala has historically been an important centre of football in the land. Recently the Kochi crowd also made their hometown ISL franchise Kerala Blasters on of the top 10 most attended clubs in the world. An omission of Kochi if happens then not only it would be a big blow to the state of Kerala and AIFF but it would also be a negative impact on the U-17 World Cup.

Although the AIFF has not officially said anything on this issue but the sources suggest that the work has already started on a war foot basis. The deadline of May 15 is really looming large!