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4-min read

Exclusive: Baichung Bhutia admits India not ready for U-17 World Cup

The chairman of AIFF technical committee is in total agreement tournament director Javier Ceppi and says standards of the grounds 'have to be much, much better'.

Subhasish Dutta | News18 Sports

Updated:July 6, 2015, 8:39 AM IST
Exclusive: Baichung Bhutia admits India not ready for U-17 World Cup
The chairman of AIFF technical committee is in total agreement tournament director Javier Ceppi and says standards of the grounds 'have to be much, much better'.

"Did you see the Championship final in Berlin or did you see the World Cup in Brazil. That is the standard we are looking at. Ladies and gentlemen this is the World Cup, it is not your average tournament. It's a World Cup. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The scathing remarks of the tournament director for the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, Javier Ceppi, on the standard of grounds in India is a timely reminder to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the central and the state governments of the monumental work that needs to be in place before the mega event.

Ceppi was recently in Goa to officially announce the state's selection as a provisional venue for the U-17 World Cup. However, what raised the eyebrows was Ceppi's comments that India does not have a single football pitch good enough to host a FIFA World Cup match.

Indian Yuwa School Board Secretary Sonu Chhetry (C), 33, leads a training demonstration during a football students and coaches training session at the Yuwa School in Hutup Village, some 12 kilometres from Ranchi on March 22, 2015. (Getty Images)

Earlier this year, FIFA announced that India would host the 24-team championship, the first ever global football tournament in which India will participate by virtue of hosting it. The tournament will open a window of opportunities for a country of 1.2 billion, with a rich soccer history to boot, that is yet to feature in a football World Cup.

However, the stakeholders have a lot on their plate to worry in terms of matching the global standards.

A gardener or field curator hangs net in a goal post in preparation for Division League football match in Maidan area of Kolkata. (Getty Images)

Baichung Bhutia, one of India's all time best known footballers and the chairman of AIFF technical committee, is in total agreement with Seppi that the standards of the grounds need drastic improvement.

In an exclusive chat with IBNLive Sports, the Sikkimese Sniper said: "I completely agree with him [Ceppi] in terms of pitches, but I think we've still got time. The biggest problem in India is the amount of the stadiums. The ones we have are already in use by something or the other. So it becomes extremely difficult to take control of a stadium right now and maintain it. Like the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata belongs to the state government... there are a lot of league matches and other matches happening. So it can only be maintained when the federation gets complete control of the ground but I completely agree that standards have to be much, much better."

Indian students from 'The Rockstars' Yuwa School football training team line up ahead of their fist match on a full-sized football pitch, held against a local boys' team, in Hesatu Village, some 16 kilometres from Ranchi on March 21, 2015. (Getty Images)

The six provisional venues shortlisted for the 2017 tournament are Kolkata, New Delhi, Kochi, Guwahati, Navi Mumbai and Goa. If any of these venues fails to meet the FIFA standards in time, three other venues - Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune - are on standby.

Baichung, who is still the face of Indian football having led the country to the Nehru Cup twice, LG Cup, SAFF Championship three times and the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, which helped the team qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup after 24 years, said the faster AIFF gets control of the stadiums the better it is.

"I think when the tournament is nearer [the AIFF will get the control of the grounds]. We should be targeting not less than six months before, faster the better. If we can get it right now, it would be ideal but stadiums are not owned by AIFF or state associations; they are all owned by the state governments," he said.

Vivekananda Yubabharati Kriranganis ready to host the first ever ISL football tournament at the Salt Lake in Kolkata. (Getty Images)

Ceppi had also said that FIFA was against hiring foreign consultants for pitch improvements but Baichung pointed out that it's not a question of foreign or Indian consultants and the idea is to match the standards.

"Ultimately, it's not about foreign or Indian consultants. If we have an Indian curator who can match that standard, it would be great but if we don't have an Indian curator who has the knowledge and technique, then we might have to get that from somewhere else. The idea is to achieve that standard, whether it's [through] foreign or Indian [source] doesn't really matter," he added.

Soccer in cricket-crazy India is restricted to some pockets but recently big European clubs have shifted their focus to India for branding, tempted by its fast growing economy and a huge youth population. India rank a miserable 141 in the latest FIFA rankings, reflecting the game's struggle.

However, the emergence and the eventual success of the Indian Super League took the country by storm and brought an unprecedented change in the culture.

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