New Delhi: "This is a big opportunity to create a football revolution in India. This, by far, is going to be the best football every Indian is going to witness," FIFA Under-17 World Cup Director Javier Ceppi told News18.com in an exclusive interview.
The U-17 World Cup will be hosted by India and will be held across six cities — New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Margao, Kochi and Navi Mumbai — from October 6 to 28. India got the right to host the prestigious event in December 2013.
Ceppi has also termed the prestigious tournament – FIFA U-17 World Cup – as a 'football revolution' in India.
24 teams, including hosts India, will take part in the tournament which will have 52 matches and will be played before an expected global audience of over 200 million in 200 countries.
"Honestly, the interest in football in India is definitely growing. I have seen a huge football following in India. Around 60 to 65 percent of the population in India says they are football fans. I have not only seen their interest in European football or FIFA World Cup, but also in domestic tournaments like Indian Super League and I-League," the Chilean said.
The tournament director expressed his happiness about the way things were moving ahead in the preparation of the tournament.
"The process of installation of bucket seats at Kochi, Kolkata and Guwahati stadiums will be starting soon. Dressing rooms, media centres etc will be ready post March," a confident Ceppi said.
On promotional front, Ceppi said: "July 7 is the draw ceremony for the tournament. We will get to know which teams are going to which cities. After that the promotional aspect will get more active. We have plans. Our main aim is to spread the word that the tournament is taking place in India."
Ceppi, however, remained tight lipped on whether Kolkata's iconic Salt Lake Stadium would host the final.
"The tournament schedule will be announced at the end of March. We will get to know which stadium is hosting how many matches and the final too. We have to wait till then. Not just Kolkata, other cities are also in the fray," he said.
Ceppi has travelled most part of the country and loved the madness for the 'beautiful game'.
Watching a match during the World Cup, would cost the fans less than Rs 100, the tournament director said.
"We are not seeing tickets as revenue generators. For us, the main aim is to pull as much crowd in the stadium as possible. That is why we have slashed the ticket prices. If you give a ticket a value, it has value and if you give it as free, it doesn't have value. Of course, there will be categories in ticket prices. We want every Indian to come in the stadium and cheer for their favourite teams," Ceppi said.
With Diwali slated for October 19 this year, the air quality is a big concern ahead of the quadrennial event, specially in Delhi. Ceppi though rubbished reports that World Cup matches scheduled in the capital would be relocated.
"Delhi will host matches and at any cost. That is for sure. There is no question on Delhi not being a host."
Ceppi also spoke about the 'Mission 11 Million', which is to train 11 million children in India in football in the next one year.
"We have introduced a programme - "Mission 11 Million". How can football progress in India in the next 2 years? This will be the main aim of this programme. Our main target is schools. We want to introduce football at school level with the help of gully football. We have done 24 seminars on this. We will be targeting 12,000 schools in 37 cities across the country," Ceppi said.
"Academics are important, but sports are equally important. That’s why I said – Football doesn't need equipments.""We are trying to bring the concept of gully football in India – just like gully cricket. You can play in the barren field and streets. You don’t need a 105 by 68 metres professional size ground to play football. I have seen craze and potential among people for this beautiful game," Ceppi signed off.