India gets down to preparing for U-17 World Cup

New Delhi, Dec 15: India is gearing itself to host the Under-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017, in preparation for which, the country’s parent body for football, is giving the push to short-listed host cities to put infrastructure upgradation on the fast track.

Encouraged by the World Cup allotment, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) got ambitious and now aims to bid for the 2015 and the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup to put the country on a fast-track to get the infrastructure in place for the big event. The Club World Cup will see the continental club champions fighting it out for the coveted trophy. If India gets to host the event then I-League champion will get a direct entry into the tournament.

AIFF president Praful Patel, who played a key role in getting the government guarantees for the U-17 World Cup, has put the AIFF on a “high alert” and told the officials down the line to get cracking.

Patel, who is also a union minister, is also putting pressure on the state governments and the provincial associations hinting that metros like Kolkata and Mumbai may not get the World Cup matches if they do not get the infrastructure upgraded to international standards.

For AIFF, the infrastructure and raising a competitive team are at the top of its list. Patel has also made it amply clear that AIFF cannot raise all the infrastructure, and the clubs, local associations and the state governments have to provide the basic necessities.

“We have been generous in short-listing eight cities so that the tournament has a pan- India effect. Frankly, to host the Club World Cup and the U-17 World Cup, we need just two world class stadia,” Patel told IANS.

He said that the sports ministry has allocated Rs.950 million (about 15 million USD) for the renovation of stadia and Rs.250 million (about 4 million USD) as contingency fund.

“We will have a dedicated high-powered team to supervise the renovation work and make sure that the deadlines are met,” he said.

Besides Kolkata and Mumbai, the cities short-listed are New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Goa, Kochi and Guwahati. Only six cities will make the cut.

Kolkata (Salt Lake Stadium), Mumbai (Cooperage) and Bangalore (KSFA) have synthetic turfs, but the tournament has to be played only on natural grass. Patel is also the head of the Western India Football Association (WIFA) housed at the Cooperage.

While the turfs in Bangalore and Mumbai were laid down as a part of FIFA’s development project, the Salt Lake Stadium turf was a part of the state government’s initiative.

A day after India got the World Cup, AIFF secretary Kushal Das had a marathon meeting with FIFA’s regional development manager Shaji Prabhakaran, who was earlier in charge of AIFF’s grassroots and development programme, to discuss the modalities.

Das told IANS that two world class U-17 academies and a youth league are have to come up soon.

“This tournament could certainly change the face of the game in the country. FIFA will bear the cost of the tournament, around $7-8 million, but the rest we have to raise. The benefits are incalculable,” he said.

The AIFF secretary general wants all the I-League clubs on board so that a U-14 and U-16 youth league can be started immediately.

“Our top priority remains two world class U-17 academies and a competitive team for the tournament. We also want to start immediately U-14 and U-16 leagues and all the I-League clubs are on board for it,” said Das.

Das said AIFF technical director Rob Baan, whose master plan “Lakshya 2022″ was put on the backburner by the AIFF for being too costly, has been asked to draw a roadmap for the U-17 national team for the showpiece event.

“Rob Baan has been asked to draw a roadmap for the U-17 World Cup. We have not set any deadline but we know that we have to get things done quickly,” Das told IANS.

Prabhakaran, FIFA regional development manager, told IANS that it will be a big challenge for AIFF.

“It will be a big challenge for India to get everything in place. Youth development is the need of the hour and there could be some FIFA developmental projects in the coming days,” said Prabhakaran.

(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at abhishek.roy@ians.in)

IANS