Workers level Birsa Munda Athletics Stadium in Hotwar on Friday. The field had been dug up to make it termite-free. Picture by Prashant Mitra
The football spotlight will be back in Ranchi, but not on the regular venue.
The mega sports complex in Hotwar, and not the multi-crore Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Morabadi, will bask in the glory of hosting the 34th Federation Football Cup that will take place in Ranchi for the first time.
According to fixtures published in the All India football Federation (AIFF) website, the football tournament, considered to be one of the biggest and prestigious sporting events of the country, will kick off simultaneously in Ranchi and Siliguri from September 19. The qualifiers will be played at Jamshedpur’s JRD Sports Complex from September 11. Ranchi will host the main games between September 19 and 28.
“Sixteen teams have been divided into four groups. The group winners will qualify for the semi-final. The final is slated to be held in Siliguri on September 30,” the website said.
However, the authorities of Chotanagpur Athletics Association — which conducts football matches in Ranchi — and also those in the state sports department are tight-lipped, saying that things were yet to be finalised.
“We are yet to receive a formal letter. We hope that the matches will be held in Ranchi, as it will offer great exposure to football players and also lovers of the game here. A team from AIFF is expected to visit in a day or two again,” said Md Halimuddin, general secretary of Chotanagpur Athletics Association.
What’s more surprising is that the matches will be held at Birsa athletics stadium in Hotwar and not the Morabadi football stadium.
“The football stadium was deemed unfit by AIFF officials, who visited Ranchi last week. The sports department suggested that the mega sports complex be used. The football stadium is in a poor state,” said a source.
Birsa athletics stadium too didn’t appear to be in a good shape. Termites had invaded the premises and destroyed vast patches, thanks to poor maintenance. However, over a dozen employees were busy readying the field.
“We have been asked to prepare the ground and clear the termites within three days. It should be ready in three-four days,” said an employee.
Sports minister Sudesh Mahto is known to be taking personal interest in the event. He conducted a recce at the Hotwar complex on Friday.
The teams that will vye for qualification in Jamshedpur include Calcutta’s Mohammedan Sporting and Kalighat Milan Sangha, which will lock horns with Aizawl FC (Mizoram), Royal Wahingdoh (Meghalaya), Vasco Sporting Club (Goa) and HAL Limited (Bangalore).
The event is being logistically supported by the sports department of Tata Steel.
“We were in talks with the national federation for hosting the event,” confirmed the steel giant’s sports department head Captain Amitabh.
Teams who have already booked a federation Cup berth are Dempo, Mumbai FC, Pailan Arrows, Lajong FC, Salgaocar, Pune FC, Prayag United and United Sikkim FC, who will play in Ranchi. The Bengal town of Siliguri, however, will host the glamour clubs of Churchill Brothers, Air India, Mohun Bagan, Sporting Clube de Goa, ONGC, East Bengal and the two Jamshedpur qualifiers.