With severe criticism coming in from FIFA and Union Minister for Sports in India over the preparedness and slow pace of work at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, ahead of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October this year, officials of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) at Kochi have assured that work has picked up pace in the last one month.
When asked about the pace of the renovations and readiness of the infrastructure, Javier Ceppi, tournament director in the LOC of the FIFA U-17 World Cup said, â€śIn the past month, the improvement on the pace of works has been quite positive, keeping in mind the May 15 deadline that has been given for the core infrastructure works. We are monitoring the work quite closely and we are very confident about the capacity of the authorities in Kerala to deliver.â€ť
October 2017 is going to see this stadium host the FIFA U-17 World Cup, along with Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati and the Fatorda Stadium in Margao.
This stadium was the first to gain provisional acceptance from the FIFA body for hosting the tournament. Jaya Thandrana, an engineer at the stadium, said, â€śWe have such a large fan base in Kerala. Fans from everywhere come to the stadium to watch a match.â€ť
However, the LOC has come under sharp criticism.
Vijay Goel, the Union Sport Minister had expressed his disappointment over the pace of maintenance work. According to Firstpost, he said, â€śWe are much behind the schedule. We were supposed to complete the work by 31 March.â€ť At a press conference, Goel said, â€śThough I am disappointed over the delay in completion of various works, the officers have promised me that most of the work, especially at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, will be completed by 15 May.â€ť
Jaime Yarza, head of events at FIFA, told The Hindu, â€śItâ€™s unfortunate, the state that the JNI Stadium in Kochi is in currently, needless to say if we want the ground to play host to a World Cup, we need the authorities to step up now.â€ť
This ground has a seating capacity between 55,000 to 60,000. â€śCurrently, we are making an assessment of the maximum safe capacity of the stadium based on evacuation standards,â€ť Ceppi said.
Massive financial investment has gone into its renovation. According to Ceppi, the Government of India has given financial assistance of Rs 12.44 crore to the Government of Kerala for renovating the stadium. â€śApproximately Rs. 36 crore has been pumped in by the Government of Kerala and the FIFA for the works of the stadium,â€ť said Thandrana.
The infrastructure maintenance and renovation has been carried out for every part of the stadium. â€śWe have enforced renovations on infrastructure so that all facilities are compliant with the requirements. Among those are the installation of bucket seats, renovation of competition areas, media areas, public areas, VIP areas. There has been a revamp in toilets, sewage systems, water collection and also the approach roads and outer perimeter areas need to be made safer for general public,â€ť said Ceppi.
For maintaining the turf, Thandrana says that the grass that is being grown will be regularly maintained after each match. â€śWe will be engineering in additional grass and sand so that the pitch is well-balanced and levelled before every match.â€ť
â€śPlayers are the most important stakeholders for us and their facilities at the stadiums, training sites and hotels must be world class. We are talking about players that are already worth 50-60 million dollars and their expectations are quite high. We need to make sure all facilities can be of that world class standard,â€ť Ceppi said.
â€śWe are organising multiple, high-standard locker rooms for the players to ensure their comfort. Out of the four rooms we have, each team will get two for themselves,â€ť explains Thandrana.
The U-17 FIFA World Cup is a major step in putting India on the international map for sports other from cricket. â€śThis is the first FIFA World Cup that India will host, it doesn't get any bigger than this, it is by far the most important football event hosted by the Subcontinent. One does not get a second chance to make a first impression, so we really need to make this one count,â€ť said Ceppi.