New Delhi: In his bid to put pressure on the state governments and the local associations, All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel Monday dropped hints that Kolkata and Mumbai may lose out on hosting 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup matches if infrastructure is not upgraded immediately to meet international standards.
Patel made it amply clear that it cannot be the sole responsibility of the AIFF to develop infrastructure and said the onus is now on clubs, local associations and the state governments.
Kolkata and Mumbai are among the eight tentative venues selected by the AIFF to host the showpiece event. The others are New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Goa, Kochi and Guwahati. Only six cities will be selected eventually to host the tournament.
Stadiums in Kolkata (Salt Lake Stadium), Mumbai (Cooperage) and Bangalore (KSFA) have artificial turf, which are not the preferred choice of FIFA. Patel coincidentally is also the head of West India Football Association (WIFA) housed in the Cooperage Stadium.
While the turfs in Bangalore and Mumbai were laid down as a part of FIFA`s development project, the Salt Lake Stadium turf was a part of the state government`s initiative.
"The FIFA standards are very strict. We have shortlisted eight cities but at the end, six cities will make the grade. FIFA generally prefers natural grass but artificial turf also cannot be a negative factor. But we have to make sure that the artificial turfs are of the highest standard in the world. We cannot make compromises," Patel said here at a media briefing.
Asked if it was a veiled threat to major footballing centres, Patel said: "We have no other options. Natural turfs will be preferred to artificial ones and the state associations must get their act together from tomorrow."
The AIFF head added that winning the rights to host the U-17 World Cup was a lesser challenge than hosting it.
"The bigger challenge of actually hosting the showpiece lies ahead. We have to make sure that the success of the tournament is in line with the development of Indian football in the long run. It’s not only about the rankings, we have to ensure football is the No.1 sport in the country and for that to happen the platform has been laid,” said Patel.
Asked about the plans to prepare a competitive team for the tournament, Patel said: “We may convert one of our academies into a team dedicated for the World Cup. We will send youth teams to more exposure trips abroad to have a feel of how the top countries around the globe play.”
India got the better of Ireland, 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa and Uzbekistan to get the final nod from FIFA’s Executive Committee at the resort town of Costa do Sauipe in Brazil.
“It was not an easy task. Getting the guarantees from the Government of India and convincing FIFA that India indeed does have the ability and is serious about hosting the U-17 World Cup was tough. I am thankful to FIFA that it has recognised India’s determination and persuasion to give it to India ahead of many other contenders,” he said.