New Delhi: India’s dream to play host to the under-17 World Cup football in 2017 turned into a reality. On Thursday, Fifa decided to award the tournament to India ahead of South Africa, Ireland and Uzbekistan.
“I have received a phone call from a senior Fifa official, confirming that India’s bid for organising the under-17 World Cup in 2017 has been accepted by the executive committee in Brazil,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das told The Telegraph.
“This is the happiest moment for Indian football in recent years. Importantly, the Fifa decision could easily prove to be the turning point for the game in the country,” Das hoped.
Over the years, India had staged several top international championships that included World Cup hockey, Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games apart from the cricket World Cup. But never before did they have a chance to host to a biennial soccer competition of this magnitude.
Often described by Fifa president Sepp Blatter as the “sleeping giants of world football,” India, in fact, have been minnows of the game for the past few decades. Once the Asian champions, India are now ranked 148 among 207 Fifa members and 27th in Asia.
Looking from the organisational part, the under-17 World Cup, to be played by 24 nations including the hosts for over a period of two weeks, could easily change the face of the game in India.
At present, only two stadiums in India — in Delhi and in Chennai — can stage Fifa approved matches. For the under-17 World Cup, Fifa has already asked the AIFF to prepare at least six venues in accordance with the international standard.
The AIFF, Das said, has narrowed down their choices to eight venues as two of them could finally be excluded. While Calcutta and Guwahati have been chosen from the eastern zone, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Kochi are the other short-listed venues.
Though never said officially, it is an open secret that Fifa was concerned with the rapid decline of Indian football at the world stage. However, India’s huge market had always been a matter of attraction for sponsors associated with Fifa.
Going by merits strictly, India had little chance of edging out of some of the better-prepared countries in the bid. But Fifa, it seems, was determined to bring India into the elite fold. The decision to award the competition was delayed twice in the past one year to allow India submit the bid. In addition, Fifa also asked the AIFF to table yet another bid for the 2015 World Club Cup.
AIFF sources said that while Fifa would take care of most of the expenses, the sports ministry has also promised to chip in with around Rs 125 crore for the infrastructure-related improvement. Fifa is known to spend generously for the success of its tournaments. According to one estimate, it spent $43 million for staging the under-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
The AIFF, which has initially chalked out a moderate budget of $12 million, is also planning to set up two academies with 30 boys each for raising a competitive Indian team.