Why football-mad Kerala could lose out on ‘marquee matches’ at the U17 World Cup
The football-mad state of Kerala may be deprived of ‘marquee matches’ in next year’s U-17 World Cup after vandalism marred Sunday’s Indian Super League (ISL) match between home side Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The incident occurred after a fan was allegedly manhandled by the security forces, leading irate spectators to hurl objects onto the pitch including plastic chairs.
Javier Ceppi, the tournament director of the U17 World Cup, has taken a grim view of the incident which he branded a ‘riot’ and said had cast a question mark over the venue’s ability to host big games, i.e. semifinals and the final.
“Something failed there. This is not the first time this had happened at the venue. Previously also there have been instances of people jostling and shoving each other to enter the stadium and fans jumping from one tier to another. This keeps happening in Kochi. I have attended ISL matches at that venue. But this time, it’s right in our faces. We (LOC) have seen the video of this incident.
“There is now a question mark on the facility’s ability to deliver for big games. It is just not acceptable. The situation is far from ideal as we can’t have a situation where someone’s physical health is in jeopardy,” Ceppi told Hindustan Times on Wednesday.
Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was the first stadium to get ratified by a high-level FIFA delegation in October. The venue boasts of some of the most football-crazy fans. In fact, while some venues around the country struggle to fill even 10,000 seats, Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium routinely has over 50,000 fans coming for ISL matches.
On being asked if there was a possibility that the venue could be stripped of the rights to host the prestigious tournament due to the incident, Ceppi said: “It has not escalated to that level yet. The stadium needs to be sanitised. But the Kochi police have been fantastic, they have shown the eagerness to sit with us and work out such issues. Besides every venue has its own complications.”
Ceppi was in the city to be part of a panel discussion on sports infrastructure in India at Goal 2016 along with MD and CEO of TransStadia, Udit Sheth, and Akshay Tandon, president of ISL club FC Goa.