FIFA U17 World Cup: The curious case of empty stands at Kochi stadium and "Sold Out" boards at ticket counters
Kochi is well known for its football crazy fans. In the Indian Super League (ISL) Kerala Blasters enjoy tremendous support with large turnouts and an average attendance of near 50,000 for the past three seasons. With the FIFA U17 World Cup, Kochi fans excitedly welcomed the first ever World Cup in India and the bonus for them was the likes of Brazil, Spain and Germany having their group matches at Kaloor's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The tickets for the opening match Brazil vs Spain where sold out online weeks before the tournament started; the tickets for the other matches were also sold out days before the first match. In fact, the fans were disappointed to hear the news that the capacity for the World Cup was reduced to 29,200 due to security reasons just before the tournament started, and they started running around and asking friends to see if any tickets were available to take a glimpse of their favourite team play. Even the Brazilian coach had hailed the fan of Kochi before the game.
For the second match between Niger and North Korea on the opening day, we saw a derisory crowd of 2,754 which incidentally is the lowest turnout for any match at any venue in the tournament so far. On Tuesday, in a fixture between Spain and Niger, we saw a very small crowd of 7,926, for the second fixture on Tuesday between Brazil and North Korea, 15,314 turned up, almost double the attendance of the earlier fixture. But still a long way short of the stadium's official capacity for the event.
Even though the capacity was reduced to 29,200 just before the tournament started due to security reasons, the authorities expected a full turn out as the FIFA site mentioned that all the tickets for the matches at Kochi where sold out days before the tournament started. The reality in the stadium took everyone by bewilderment.
A sizeable number of ticket holders opted not to go to the ground due to the initial difficulties faced by the fans in the first match, like lack of water and food in the stadium. But the large difference between the actual capacity and the attendance in the stadium shows that this was not the reason for such a low turn out. The arrest of black-market dealers with a large amount of tickets in possession at Kochi shows us that they might have also played their part in the tickets being sold out online.
Before the World Cup started, the organizers had said they don't entertain complimentary passes, an LOC statement after the first round matches at Kochi stated about the contractual obligations they had with various stakeholders and stated that an ample amount of tickets were given out as complimentary ones. The sources also said that a higher number of tickets were given out as complimentary tickets in Kochi than in other venues.
But all these talks on the crowd turn out shows that the fans at Kochi have not welcomed the World Cup as it was expected to be. The restrictions on bringing stuff to the stadium also played a huge part in such a low turn out. "They are not even allowing flags to be taken into the stadium. No bags, no banners are permitted inside. People are forced to leave things outside with no security and we have lost two of our treasured Brazil national flags when we came for the last match" said a fan before the game on Tuesday.