NEW DELHI: World football governing body FIFA Wednesday said it was “evaluating” India’s request to stage the group matches of Under-17 World Cup involving the national team in the national capital, but asserted that it will have the final say on the matter.
On the advice of the Sports Ministry, the All India Football Federation has requested FIFA to allot India’s group matches to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here even though the world body had last month announced that the matches of Group A would be played at Mumbai’s D Y Patil Stadium.
Under the usual practice, the host country of a FIFA tournament is placed in Group A. The Under-17 World Cup will be held in six cities — Kolkata, Margao, Navi Mumbai, Kochi, Guwahati and New Delhi — from October 6-28.
“We have received a request from the All India Football Federation regarding the venue for the Indian team and are currently evaluating the situation. Once a decision is made, it will be communicated to the AIFF accordingly,” FIFA’s head of events Jaime Yarza told PTI.
“FIFA works closely with relevant football federation, its member and partner in the country, but also with the authorities of the respective host country. The government support is crucial for FIFA to be able to organise a World Cup.
“So, we cooperate closely with all football stakeholders in the country, but the final decision about where the matches will be played are with FIFA,” said Yarza, who led a FIFA team to inspect the World Cup venues last month.
He described India’s request to stage group matches, involving the national team in New Delhi, as a “normal” practice.
“Such requests are not unusual and frequently seen at FIFA World Cups. The allotment of the matches depends on many factors, like capacity of the stadium, ticket sales, interest of the venue, etc. This is a normal request in the process of establishing the final match schedule and the draw procedures. As the draw is taking place on July 7, we still have time to evaluate this request,” Yarza said.
The union government has spent a lot of money for the prestigious tournament, the first FIFA event to be held in India, and it has been learnt that the Sports Ministry is keen on New Delhi hosting India’s group matches.
The officials of the Local Organising Committee had also talked about the possible presence of the Prime Minister at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium during the tournament.
The FIFA team that announced the schedule after its inspection visit last month has not allotted the marquee matches in New Delhi due to concerns over high pollution level after the Diwali festival.
The FIFA team had said that New Delhi can host matches only till October 16.
While announcing the cities to host the matches of the six groups, Yarza had given a May 15 deadline to Kochi’s Nehru Stadium to complete its preparation work.
Asked whether FIFA would reallocate Kochi’s group matches to one of the remaining five venues or consider a completely different venue if the deadline is missed, Yarza said, “Both possibilities are open, but we still believe in Kochi.
“The authorities have confirmed that the shops will be closed during the tournament so that safety and security can be guaranteed. This is a very important step in the right direction,” he said.
Regarding the venue in Kochi, FIFA’s concerns involved security risks to the players, officials and fans because of the stores/shops inside the stadium complex and the installation of bucket seats at the 55,000-capacity facility, which is mandatory for any venue hosting FIFA tournaments or matches.