The State could be a venue for major international fixtures as it has the infrastructure and other facilities, feels veteran administrator C. R. Visswanathan

Football may not be in the best of health currently in the metropolis, what with an ad hoc committee taking care of its administration. Activities, nonetheless, go on at the Nehru Stadium like a ritual, even when it comes to finding a sponsor to support the league. As for the State Association, very little is known about its working because its interactions with the media are minimal. But, football talent is not starved of tournaments, or opportunities, and that is what matters.

In this none-too-encouraging atmosphere, there is still one veteran administrator, C. R. Visswanathan, who believes Tamil Nadu can associate itself with world-class football, as it had done in the not-too-distant past. Visswanathan has proved his mettle several times in State football matters.

It was his single-minded passion that set the ball rolling when it came to replacing the old Corporation Stadium with the state-of-the art Nehru Stadium, the only one in the country built according to FIFA specifications. There is no denying the huge support he enjoyed from the then Government with J. Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister.

Dream run

What followed was a dream run for football fans, starting with the Nehru Cup in 1993, followed by the SAF Games in 1995, and the Jayalalithaa Gold Cup Women's International tournament, apart from pre-Olympic and pre-World Cup matches. Chennai became a preferred venue whenever there was talk of an International fixture. Former AIFF Secretary Alberto Colaco would vouch for the wonderful ambience at the Nehru Stadium.

Much has happened since. Visswanathan is out of local football but he remains dedicated to the sport. He continues to be in the administration at the national level as member of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Technical Committee. This has enabled him to speak on behalf of Tamil Nadu in AIFF meetings. When talk of India bidding for the 2017 U-17 World Cup arose, he was quick to see another opportunity for Tamil Nadu to play a big role (read strong bidder), particularly at a time when the present State Government is well-disposed towards sport.

The first move

Visswanathan has already made the first move by requesting the AIFF president Praful Patel to visit Chennai to see the Nehru Stadium and meet the Chief Minister to further the chances of the State getting an opportunity to host the mega event.

His confidence stems from the success of his earlier ventures. “Besides we already have good infrastructure. There's the main stadium. But, we need a practice ground for which I had suggested Kannapar Thidal, just a stone's throw away from the Nehru Stadium. The stadia in Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Madurai need to be upgraded by way of playing facilities, practice grounds and flood lights. All these venues are 45 to 50 minutes away from Chennai by air, just the requirement the FIFA wants. Overall, with Government support, Tamil Nadu has a big advantage,” he said, adding that there was also the bonus of a sizeable FIFA grant for the host for developing the venues.

The larger gain the AIFF official sees in hosting such a mega event is Tamil Nadu will always be on the radar when more FIFA-designated tourneys find their way to India. It's something that cannot be ruled out if the U-17 venture becomes a reality.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012