Cup can boost India's sporting image
Ultimately, staging the U-17 World Cup can be a catalyst to enhance football's popularity throughout India, attract generous and regular private sector investment and improve the country's global sporting image.
The long wait is over and India will host the U-17 World Cup in 2017.
It is the first Fifa event to come to India. Fifa president Sepp Blatter categorically stated that for geopolitical reasons India was awarded this U-17 World Cup ahead of other bidders, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Ireland and South Africa. It was not all smooth sailing.
In January 2013, Fifa rejected India’s bid as the All India Football Federation failed to get certain assurances from the government. Credit must go to AIFF president Praful Patel for getting written guarantees on tax exemptions for broadcasters and sponsors, foreign exchange remittances, security, transport and accommodation of players, and visa, among others. The Fifa emblem was granted legal protection, a privilege which even the International Cricket Council doesn’t enjoy.
India is the fourth Asian country to stage the U-17 World Cup, the others being China (1985), Japan (1993), South Korea (2007) and the UAE (2011).
Coincidentally, whenever an Asian nation has hosted the U-17 World Cup, Nigeria have emerged champions.
They are four-time winners and thrice runners up, the best record in this tournament, ahead of Brazil thrice winners and twice runners up.
Hosting the U-17 World Cup will be like a double edged sword for India.
There are both benefits and pitfalls. Improvement in infrastructure will be a major benefit. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Margao, Kochi, Pune and Guwahati have been shortlisted as venues and six cities will finally be chosen.
The stadiums in all these cities will get a massive refurbishment.
Besides the playing pitches other facilities like dressing rooms, warm up area, floodlights, toilets, and seating facilities will also get improved.
The Union cabinet has sanctioned '125 crore for infrastructure development. World class facilities will keep India in contention to stage prestigious senior events like the Asian Cup or even the World Club Cup in the next decade.
However, there are some pitfalls also. If matches are played at existing venues like Nehru Stadium Delhi and Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, with seating capacity in the range of 70,000-100,000, then in many games there will be lots of vacant seats.
This is a U-17 World Cup contested by unknown players with little star value, so in group league matches not involving India or popular Brazil, Spain, Germany and Holland attendances will be sparse.
India qualify automatically but for this tournament to be successful it is imperative for the hosts to be competitive.
So the AIFF and the clubs will now have to pay serious attention and not just lip service to youth development programmes. Some of the Under-14 age-group boys in AIFF’s regional academy in Goa could form the nucleus of India’s squad in the U-17 World Cup.
But more talented boys of that age category should be scouted all around the country, so that from quantity Indian can form a quality team.
It is also imperative that age fraud a bane in Indian sports, is not followed in trying to forge a competitive team. Otherwise, it will be self-defeating.
Ultimately, staging the U-17 World Cup can be a catalyst to enhance football’s popularity throughout India, attract generous and regular private sector investment and improve the country’s global sporting image.