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Guwahati faces knockout from Fifa map

- Stadium declared unfit for India-Palestine match; may lose Junior World Cup event

Guwahati, Jan. 23: A multi-crore rupee sporting facility is about to be knocked off the Fifa map because non-sporting activity at the venue has made it unfit for the honours.

So, the people of the Northeast will have to wait for another day and for sense to dawn on the powers that be before they can hope to witness the beautiful game at the international level up close and live.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) blew the final whistle today on the India-Palestine friendly international football match with its competition director Anil Kamat saying the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here was not fit for what would have been the second international for the city.

Kamat, who visited the stadium today to take one last look, said: “It is final, the match will be played in Cochin as the ground condition here is unplayable. If the condition persists, Guwahati will also go out of the race as a venue for the proposed 2017 Junior World Cup that India has bid for.” The Cochin fixture is on February 6, a Fifa date.

“We had projected the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Cochin and this one. We had already rejected the Delhi venue and now, we have found this one too not fit for international football. Cochin is suitable, thanks to a recent international cricket match, which helped the ground to be developed properly,” the AIFF official said after inspecting the ground, which was damaged badly by three non-sporting events in the past month. The blame for the sorry state of affairs can be traced to none other than chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who, as the chairman of the Sports Authority of Assam (SAA), grants permission for non-sporting events at the 30,000-capacity stadium.

The ground was recently used for an Assam Police event followed by the flag down ceremony of the India-Asean car rally and then the Northeast International Tourism Mart. The first two events caused the maximum damage to the ground and the synthetic athletic track; daredevils on motorcycles and vehicles roared down the tracks that were made for running feet in spikes.Sources in SAA said Gogoi was often misled by a section of bureaucrats and people with little knowledge about sports in securing permission for non-sports activities here.

Gogoi could not be contacted as he was in Upper Assam campaigning for the panchayat elections but his press adviser Bharat Narah told The Telegraph that the chief minister’s office would soon issue a statement after going through the issue in its entirety.

A guarded sports minister Ajit Singh told this correspondent that he would take up the matter with the AIFF. “I am in Silchar. I am yet to get the details but will take up the issue with the AIFF.”

Government sources associated with the preparation, however, insinuated that the AIFF had allegedly made up its mind to change the venue.

“Grounds inferior to Guwahati have been allotted matches. This appears to be a pre-meditated step. The AFA and sports department have been jointly working for over 20 days to get the ground ready for the India-Palestine match. Today’s development only suggests that we won’t be getting even the Junior World Cup match even if we can get the ground ready,” one of them alleged.

Kamat was more categorical: “Not only is the ground condition poor, this stadium does not even have proper dressing rooms for players and dugouts for the substitutes, apart from other facilities necessary for international football. The surface is uneven and there is wild grass all around. If these aspects are not looked into immediately and the stadium kept out of bounds for non-sporting events, Guwahati cannot expect matches of the Junior World Cup, too.” The city is one of the six venues that make up the Indian bid.

During his first inspection of the stadium for the cancelled India-Yemen match scheduled for December last year, Kamat had remarked that there had hardly been any improvement after the India-Malaysia friendly international in December 2011, which had catapulted the stadium to the Fifa map for the first time.

“Immediately after the India-Yemen match was cancelled, we had informed the Assam Football Association that the next Fifa match (against Palestine) will be allotted to Guwahati because we want to promote the sport in this part of the country. However, the AFA and the state government seem to have done nothing to deserve the game,” Kamat said.

“I am going to send a brochure of requirements for a Fifa match stadium to the SAA (which looks after the stadium) and if they can meet those, then only further international football matches can be held here,” the AIFF official added.

SAA vice-president Rana Goswami, who accompanied Kamat on the stadium visit, assured him that if he continued to hold the post he would ensure that the requirements were fulfilled.

“I will ensure that the ground is earth-filled, the grass is changed completely, and the dressing rooms and dugouts as well as other requirements are in place. It will, however, need some time and cooperation of the government. As far as time is concerned, we are not short of it,” Goswami said.

India’s bid for the 2017 mega event has reportedly already lost much of the sting owing to lack of infrastructure compared to bidders like Indonesia and Algeria, among others.