In a welcome relief from the latest All India Football Federation (AIFF) and IMG-Reliance soap operas, the long suffering Indian football fans atlast had something to cheer about, when Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken, in a letter to the AIFF, conveyed the government’s support to the national football governing body’s bid for the 2017 U-17 World Cup bid.
In the same week in which IMG-Reliance received flak over the telecast (read: absence of broadcaster) of the Federation Cup while the AIFF were left red-faced with the poor ground condition at the venues, the government backing for the U-17 World Cup bid is not only a positive, but it was also a necessity since if left on their own, the power struggle between the I-League clubs and the AIFF has the potential to leave India ill-prepared.
Also support from the Centre was important, since FIFA General Secretary, Jerome Valcke, had during his recent visit to India, pointed out that the Government’s assurances over security issues and travel as well other logistics related to the tournament would be needed, if India were to host the U-17 mega event in 2017.
With just 5 years to go, if the bid proves to be successful, the authorities have a huge task in front of them, to build the world class infrastructure needed to host such a tournament. Almost all the venues will have to be made from scratch, since as evidenced during the Federation Cup, the present stadiums and turfs are not worth writing about, although AIFF vice-president Ankur Dutta has a different opinion.
The kind of pitch where national level tournaments are held in India....
In such a scenario, government assistance will be much needed, since the AIFF is not only lacking in funds, but also in the expertise needed for the task at hand as was evidenced when a senior vice-president gave his approval after having inspected the Morabadi Stadium at Ranchi as fit to host the Federation Cup games before it had to be shifted to Jamshedpur at the eleventh hour.
While the stadiums built for the Commonwealth Games and the Youth Games that preceded them were scam hit, they provided good training facilities for players in the build-up to the Olympic Games that were held earlier this summer, and are expected to provide more medal winners in the future.
Similarly such football arenas, which are expected to be built for the U-17 World Cup, will not only mean that India has a few world class stadiums, but also good facilities on which the next generation of youngsters could train to play football, instead of the hoofball that they have to resort to, on present turfs.
As pointed earlier by Sunando Dhar, the I-League CEO, the expansion plans of the I-League would go hand-in-hand with the venues where new stadiums are to come up for the U-17 World Cup.
Also with the government lending its hand, the chances of the stadiums being finished on time would improve, something the AIFF could find difficult to cope with on their own, considering it has taken them 5 years to install 4 artificial pitches, so 6 stadiums in as much time could well be beyond them!
Considering how often football has been a victim of apathy, official government support is even more welcome, as it means that finally, the national machinery takes the sport and its untapped potential seriously.
The ministry backing could also encourage corporate involvement in the sport, which can only be a good thing in the long-term, for the game which struggles to find sponsors for major tournaments in the country.
Hence the government support is indeed a move in the right direction. However the road to hosting the U-17 World Cup and indeed popularizing the game is a long one indeed, and it remains to be seen which direction the AIFF now takes, since as the downturn of hockey in the country has proven, just popular support and financial backing of the government is not enough, if the officials are busy bickering between themselves.
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