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Lack of quality football stadiums is a problem for India

Jawaharlal Nehru football stadium, Dalhi
Jawaharlal Nehru football stadium, Delhi

Indian football is about to rise from its ashes. The Asian Football Confederation is handing out licenses to the I-League clubs in a bid to improve their quality. Indian Super League will kick-off later this year with 8 new clubs from across India. This new Indian Premier League (IPL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) style football league promises to draw large crowds to the stadiums. Started and operated by sports media giant IMG, the Indian Super League (ISL) promises to be a rebirth for Indian football. India is all set to host its first FIFA event in the year 2017. The Under-17 FIFA World Cup will be the first FIFA event that India hosts and the first football World Cup India plays.

But, what might come in the way is the lack of world class football stadiums. India has 49 international standard cricket stadiums. But, football stadiums are scarce. And the ones that do exist are too old and are not up to the mark.

India is just 3 years away from hosting the FIFA under-17 World Cup and yet, we don’t know how our stadiums will look like. India needs at least 6 FIFA World Cup standard stadiums and equal number of practice grounds.

Out of the 8 cities in contention to host the Under-17 World Cup, only 6 will be chosen with a stadium each.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, which was renovated for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is probably the only good stadium. The Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi doesn’t have a roof and it’s shadowed by the huge Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium.

The home of Indian football, Kolkata has the gigantic Salt Lake Stadium. But, that too is old and needs a total reconstruction with better lighting and better seats to give fans a great match experience during the Under-17 World Cup.

One of India's biggest cities, Mumbai doesn’t have a AFC Grade A football stadium. The Mumbai FC's home ground is the Cooperage Ground. Thus, Mumbai FC has not been able to get an AFC certificate. The DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai is likely to host some matches instead of the Cooperage as it has a much greater capacity, state-of-the-art sound system, a field large enough to accommodate a football pitch. There too, large chances will have to be made to accommodate the media. Unlike cricket, for FIFA events, the media sits in part of the grandstand and not at the other end.

Pune’s Balewadi Stadium has hosted India’s World Cup qualifier matches. But, its capacity is too small for it to be a FIFA event venue. Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium lacks a roof, good seating and lighting system.

The Fatorda Stadium in Goa is another venue which could have capacity crowds during the ISL and the Under-17 World Cup. But, over years it has turned itself into being a cricket stadium has fallen behind. The capacity could be more as the numbers of spectators are expected to be more there due to the large football following. The lighting and the seating is not world class.

The Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore is another venue in contention to host Under-17 World Cup matches. Only the grandstand has a roof. It doesn’t have bucket seats. And the lighting system is not up to the mark.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi has a good capacity and has recently added a roof. But, it needs a refurbishment to reach the minimum FIFA event standards.

Unlike many new World Cup standard stadiums in South Africa, Brazil and other European nations, the spectators are far away from the field.

South Africa which hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup was able to win the bid only because it was Africa's turn to host the World Cup and South Africa had better support infrastructure than other African nations. However, even they didn’t have World Cup standard stadiums. They had to build many stadiums from scratch. Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban, Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth among others, were jaw-dropping.

Good infrastructure will help accelerate Indian football’s growth. And it will prove to be good for the ISL where several international stars are slated to play. India should use the upcoming events as opportunities to demonstrate a positive image to the football world.

India needs to get its act right quickly if we want to deliver a great FIFA event and lay a good foundation for football in a country with over 1.2 billion people. The countdown has begun.

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