FIFA U-17 World Cup: Football should’ve learned from cricket to avoid embarrassment
The FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final between England and Brazil was moved from Guwahati to Kolkata after heavy rain damaged the pitch at Sarusajai Stadium. FIFA said they took the decision to safeguard the players’ health and to ensure best playing conditions.fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 24, 2017 08:56 IST
The rainy season in Assam is from May to October. The intensity usually lessens by October but there is always a probability of the odd prolonged drenching, such as now that robbed Guwahati of an under-17 World Cup semi-final.
This probability, officials said, should have been budgeted for when Fifa took charge of the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium at Sarusajai six months ago, just as air pollution was factored in to keep matches away from Delhi during Diwali. The stadium was given a facelift, but much thought apparently did not go into the drainage system which is of 2004-05 vintage.
Lesson from cricket
It could have been a lesson well learnt had the example of the new cricket stadium in Barsapara been observed as a case study. “It was because of the quality of drainage that a recent T20I against Australia could be played despite rain that day,” said a cricketer turned coach.
The World Cup stadium had run into a controversy when it was being built more than a decade ago for the 33rd National Games that got deferred by a year to 2007 because of delay in construction. “We had engaged L&T to construct the stadium and the best technology of the time was used,” said former minister Pradyut Bordoloi.
It took this World Cup to find out the best of that time is not good enough. “Maybe, the internal or engineering maintenance over the years was not as good as the external maintenance,” said Bordoloi.
Always in the brewing?
Experts at that time had also said the stadium’s pitch was lower than National Highway 37 alongside. More than 115mm of rainfall in Guwahati – 49.2 mm above normal, meteorologists said – in the region from a day prior to the Mali-Ghana quarter-final on Saturday was destined to cause trouble for a stadium whose drainage system was not overhauled for the World Cup.
“Because of clogging of the drainage system, the water did not drain out completely when the Mali-Ghana match was played in rain. It led to a third of the pitch turning soft,” said a state sports department official.
Ghana coach Samuel Kwasi Fabin blamed the surface for the 1-2 loss, saying the match should have been called off. It seemed more like a criticism of FIFA and the local organising committee (LOC) who “followed instructions” from football’s apex body.
The LOC and the Assam government though pulled out all stops in repair work with Javier Ceppi, tournament director LOC, and 200 volunteers working 48 hours in pouring rain. Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal requisitioned a helicopter to dry the surface. The Assam Cricket association too pitched in.
But sources in the LOC said though England wanted to play, Brazil refused. Hindustan Times could not independently confirm this.
“We hope Guwahati’s ability to host international matches is not judged by this. There will be could-have-been theories, but fact is the city hosted eight World Cup matches smoothly,” said Ankur Dutta, secretary of Assam Football Association.
In October 2007, the India-Lebanon World Cup qualifier had to be shifted from Chennai to Goa due to rain. One year later with rain leaving the turf unplayable, the final of the AFC Challenge Cup had to be moved from Hyderabad to New Delhi. Earlier this year in England, snow led to league games being cancelled and multiple ties in the Premiership were postponed in 2013-14 for the same reason.
Football matches affected by weather, while less of an occurrence than cricket, isn’t like a blue moon either.