S.R. Suryanarayan

CHENNAI: These are troubled times for football in Tamil Nadu. First, the State was dropped from the Asian Football Confederation's Vision India programme launched as part of the Vision Asia project to develop the game from the grassroots level.

Now, it appears that the State is also set to lose the benefit of a synthetic pitch exclusively for all-weather football under the FIFA's goal project. It is understood that unless Tamil Nadu comes up with a response by May 31, this project is in danger of slipping away.

Under this FIFA programme, seven to eight stadia were chosen in the country for laying artificial pitches, each costing up to Rs. 3.5 crore which would be totally financed by the world body.

The criteria were to pick sites where I-League matches were played and the Vision India project was being implemented.

It is understood that the FIFA and AFC officials who had toured the State sometime back had recommended that the Nehru stadium in Chennai, the only football facility in India built as per FIFA specifications, was ideal for laying the synthetic surface. The officials were not prepared for any other alternative site.

Since the Nehru stadium came under the control of the Sports Authority of Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu Football Association had the task of getting the SDAT and the Government involved in the process. Besides, the Nehru stadium was not an exclusively football facility but open to athletic events too. With an artificial surface, throw events cannot be held without damaging the costly surface.

“It is this aspect which is keeping the deal in abeyance,” felt the TFA Secretary, R. Sadatcharam.

“We have regularly corresponded with the Government, met the Member Secretary of SDAT and also the Sports Minister, but things have not moved. Our suggestion for Nehru park ground as an alternative was not acceptable to FIFA,” he said.

Similar view

The TFA President, Cletus Babu, also expressed a similar view but said, “we will continue our efforts to get Government approval.”

The former TFA President, C.R. Visswanathan, who is also AIFF's Development in-charge of southern States, said the FIFA and AFC officials had in the past met the Chennai Mayor with regard to Kannapar Thidal ground and expressed optimism with regard to making that a football facility.

A positive move from the Corporation and some convincing discussions could still save the situation because artificial surfaces being planned in other centres are not at FIFA-specified stadia.

He was optimistic that with the blessings of Chief Minister/ Deputy Chief Minister the scheme could still remain in Tamil Nadu.

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