Ranchi, Sept. 10: It was a mournful Monday for soccer enthusiasts and lovers of sport in Jharkhand.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) withdrew the 2012 Federation Cup from Ranchi after a morning inspection of two potential venues — Birsa Munda Athletics Stadium in Hotwar and Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Morabadi — revealed miserable maintenance, gross apathy towards sports and lack of professionalism among government officials.
Ankur Gupta, the chairman of the prestigious Federation Cup and vice-president of AIFF, who personally toured Birsa Munda Athletics Stadium in Hotwar and Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Morabadi, expressed deep anguish over the sorry state of sports in Ranchi, a state capital.
“Consider this (pullout) a big loss for Jharkhand,” he told The Telegraph over phone in the afternoon on way to Jamshedpur, which will host the Cup qualifiers from Tuesday.
For the past week, several football experts have been doing the rounds of Hotwar and Morabadi to assess ground realities. Flagging the issues plaguing the twin facilities, the AIFF chairman on Monday stressed that the multi-crore stadiums had turned “useless” because of “poor maintenance”.
The athletics stadium, which is part of the Rs 650-crore Jaipal Singh Munda Mega Sports Complex, was built for Rs 135 crore. Construction began around 2006 and was completed around 2009. But, finishing touches went on till two weeks before the 34th National Games in February 2011.
The exclusive football stadium in Morabadi too was revamped to host matches during the Games at a cost of Rs 34 crore. “It does not matter how much you invest in a facility when it cannot be used for any sporting activity. Both grounds are uneven, they have lost their natural grass cover and are not at all suitable for any competition at this point of time. We had to cancel the scheduled main fixtures,” Gupta said.
The JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur will host the qualifiers, where six teams will vie for the two remaining berths in the 16-team Federation Cup for the next six days, but the AIFF is yet to confirm whether the main matches will be hosted in the steel city.
“We will take a decision after a meeting tonight or tomorrow morning,” Gupta added.
Sources in the sports circuit said the biggest problem with the athletics stadium in Hotwar was that it was covered with termite colonies. The facility had been proposed as a venue after AIFF officials expressed displeasure over the condition of the Morabadi football stadium.
Although, ground preparations in Hotwar began three days ago, football experts maintain that the work should have been started much before. “It is a big loss for the state,” reiterated a senior official of Chotanagpur Football Association. “We tried our best to persuade AIFF bosses, but we lost the event. Had the state sports department worked in tandem with sports associations and let players use the stadiums for routine practice instead of letting them rot, we would have been hosting the prestigious Federation Cup,” he rued.
Gupta too sounded offended by the “lack of professionalism” among sports department officials. “Their apathy is the biggest concern. Unless this issue is addressed, sports cannot succeed in this state,” he said.
“We found no official from the department during our visit. If you take my suggestion, sportspersons (and not bureaucrats) should be at the helm of affairs because they will know how to maintain stadiums,” the AIFF chairman said, adding that just renting out sports facilities as and when required did not serve the purpose.
A team led by state sports minister Sudesh Mahto had visited three football-crazy European nations — Germany, France and Italy — in May 2011 to learn how the mega sports complex in Hotwar could be turned into a sports university.
The honourable minister, we presume, must have learnt a thing or two about sports infrastructure. Only, he hasn’t had the time to implement them.