“Out of the 60 to 70 training sites I have seen in India so far, none complies with the required Fifa standards.” The 2017 Under-17 World Cup tournament director, Javier Ceppi’s assessment of the ground realities is a sharp reminder to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and other stakeholders — the Central government and the governments of the states lobbying to be among the hosts — of the work that has be done.
Having previously worked in the role of executive director of the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile, before taking the reins of the India edition, Ceppi is an authoritative voice in the matter. He has also played a key role in the Abu Dhabi edition held in 2013.
“They need proper drainage, proper seeding… need to (set up) proper conditions to be of the required standard. Even the training pitches used by the ISL (Indian Super League) teams… I wouldn’t rate them even near what should be the standard. I’m not a grass expert but I know that they are not of Fifa standard,” Ceppi said, on the sidelines of the press meet announcing the Memorandum of Understanding between AIFF and the Japan Football Association. The MoU would help India acquire Japan’s know-how with regards to India’s preparation for the Under-17 World Cup.
Ceppi, however, added that India has time on its side. “There is time. In Chile, even 27 months before the World Cup, there were no training sites of Fifa standards in place. Usually, local organising committees set up (infrastructure) just two-and-a-half to three years before the tournament.”
“The Indian government has ensured full support. It is also important to have (the support) of state governments and other stakeholders. They need to understand that an opportunity like this doesn’t come every night. In Chile, for example, the municipalities were paying to get the right to host the tournament…. Half-a-million US dollars just to get the right.”
Quality not quantity the concern
Ceppi also stated that there are enough stadia in India, but the quality of those is a concern. “India has 96 stadium of 20,000-plus capacity. Ok granted, some of them are for cricket, some for athletics, some are pure football stadiums, but still 96 stadiums. Only three other countries have more — the US, Japan and China.”
“I always say, instead of a building 300-crore (rupee) stadium, build a 200-crore stadium and keep 20 crore for the maintenance of the stadium for the next 20 years.”
Salt Lake will be natural grass
Ceppi confirmed that Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium will be re-laid to put natural grass so that the city could be one of the candidate cities to host the World Cup. “The conditions were simple, if you want to be a candidate city, they either have to upgrade the turf to Fifa-approved artificial turf and then have four other artificial turf training sites. Or they can change to natural grass. The West Bengal government decided to change it to natural grass. I think they have made the more sound decision.”