Despite having a state-of-the-art stadium and practice ground, why has Chennai not got a chance to host some of the World Cup U-17 football matches?

India has never had occasion till date to be associated with any FIFA world level competition. The country has hosted international tournaments and witnessed World Cup football stars coming for promotional events. Not surprising then that when FIFA decided to allot the 2017 World Cup U-17 competition to India it created a buzz. It did not matter that the competition was for Under-17 players. But then, these would be the players to hold world attention a few seasons after the competition in India. To that extent, India would be the launchpad for several international careers. In a way, this was the closest to getting real World Cup football to the country.

Whichever way one looked at it, no football fan would wish to miss the opportunity to be part of this history. So when the world body’s announcement was made there were bids from various cities in the country to host the matches. On its part, the All India Football Federation made it clear that whichever city or state body was keen to conduct the entire event or even organise a few matches needed to comply with some stringent requirements (read guarantees) FIFA insisted on.

Revamped stadium

Needless to say, such a mega competition could be organised only in a city which had the required infrastructure. From West to East and South to North cities vied with one another to attract the attention of a FIFA delegation which undertook a journey of the country to satisfy for itself that India could deliver. What surprised many football lovers in this metropolis was the absence of such a visit here to inspect the wonderful facility that the modern and revamped Nehru Stadium is. What went wrong? State football officials insist that the state’s bid had been duly made. But was the Government backing adequate? There is no clarity on this because the stadium is under the control of the Tamil Nadu Sports Development Authority, which is part of the Sports Department of the Government. But whatever the procedural hurdle, there is still time for remedial measures, for the fact remains, as football experts would reiterate, there can be no parallel to the wonderful ambience of the Nehru Stadium.

The Nehru Cup in 1993 and SAF Games football in 1995 bear testimony to this as did the many international matches that came thereafter, including Asia’s first international women’s fixture, the Jayalalitha Gold Cup football tournament. With the recent revamp of the stadium, an aspect that once again indicated the high interest of the Government in sports development, there’s an added benefit for footballers: a well laid-out practice ground.

As veteran football administrator C. R. Visswanathan, the man who has been campaigning for the World event to come to Chennai, put it, “It was the Government’s involvement that saw the coming up of the Nehru Stadium in a record 234 days. It is possible then for the Government to develop football infrastructure in cities such as Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Madurai. There is still time for this. If that happens then Tamil Nadu can bid to host not a few but the entire set of matches of the World U-17 in the state.” Voices have begun to be heard. The Netaji Sports Club, a popular team, under a new management, has joined the campaign.

There are hopes and dreams but one thing no football lover would like to miss is quality competition because of official apathy.