KFA only benefits from our upkeep of the ground, counters cricket association

The Kerala Football Association (KFA) must be the envy of its counterparts elsewhere in the country.

For, how many associations have the luxury of getting a well-maintained stadium of international standards for organising a major national-level football tournament without having to shed a drop of sweat?

The KFA is about to organise Santhosh Trophy later this week at Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, which is being maintained by the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) under a five-year lease agreement with the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) that owns the stadium.

The agreement has a provision to release the stadium to the KFA for international and national-level football matches as long as they do not clash with the cricket schedule. A senior official of the cricket association told The Hindu that the KFA is reluctant to accept the fact that the stadium and the pitch is in good shape thanks to the large sum shelled out by the KCA.

He said that the KCA spends about Rs 1 crore a year for the maintenance of the stadium, including the pay for the 26-member staff with specialised knowledge retained for the purpose.

Free of charge

The stadium is released to the KFA free of charge. The KFA has not even paid for the service of the KCA staff whose service was utilised for the preparation of the ground during the national league matches last year.

Releasing the stadium for football poses immense hardships when there is not much gap between the football and cricket matches.

For instance, the KCA had to work day and night to get the ground back in shape for the Celebrity Cricket League match last Sunday as the international friendly football match between India and Palestine was held only two days before that. KFA officials countered this stating that the ground was far from an acceptable state for the friendly match. That match would not have taken place if it were not for a team like Palestine as no European team would have agreed to take a field that turned slippery in a drizzle. “Also, don’t forget that it was originally meant as a football stadium and was changed in to a multi-purpose one just for the sake of revenue generation,” KFA president K.M.I. Mather told The Hindu.

He said that just as the maintenance of the stadium by the KCA has advantages, it is not without disadvantages either as far as football is concerned. Asked what those shortcomings were, he brought up this list – removal of painted markings of cricket sponsors’ logo on the field, lack of lush grass, redrawing of lines, erection of goal posts and nets, repositioning of the VIP lounge and pavilion, and lack of adequate office, to name a few.

However, he declined to reveal how much the KFA will have to spend for organising the forthcoming Santhosh Trophy, adding that the lease arrangement should be discouraged as it put the control on the hands of the lessee alone.

‘KCA not to blame’

GCDA authorities said that the KCA can be hardly blamed no matter what the complaints of the KFA may be. The KCA has paid Rs. 50 lakh as security deposit and pays another Rs. 10 lakh as yearly rent in addition to bearing the expenses for the maintenance and painting of the stadium, setting up generators and transformers and putting in place state-of-the art drainage facilities.

A senior official said that while the KFA may have more demands in addition to the free office space allotted to it, the GCDA can hardly do anything in contravention of the lease agreement effective till January 2016. The KFA, meanwhile, would do well to read the sentiments of the average football fan best captured by a banner unfurled by fans from Malappuram during the recent India-Palestine friendly match at the perceived neglect meted out to them.

“Even if nothing is done to promote football, don’t hamper the game.”

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