More than 26,000 free passes distributed ahead of India's FIFA U17 World Cup opener in New Delhi
What's the story?
The 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup kicks into action today as four matches featuring hosts India, the USA, Ghana, Colombia, New Zealand, Turkey, Mali and Paraguay open their accounts in the mega event. Being a cricket-crazy nation, football in India has perennially seen fans flock the stadiums in relatively lesser numbers and such an eventuality for what is the biggest footballing event in the country has now been taken care of by handing out free passes.
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New Delhi isn't traditionally a footballing stronghold of India hence the low ticket sales prior to the tournament's eve isn't entirely unexpected. Fans in the capital, however, have shown interest in attending India's matches judging by the rising demand for tickets
The heart of the matter
Tickets, which were priced as low as ?40, haven't been fully sold in the capital city of New Delhi, where all three of India's group stage matches will be staged. In view of avoiding an embarrassment during India's opening game where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also be among the watching audience, the Local Organising Committee has passed on 26,750 passes to the Sports Ministry for free, according to a report.
The Sports Ministry has distributed those free passes to certain schools in New Delhi, NGO's and bureaucrats.
That aside, more than 20,000 free passes for the other matches in New Delhi have also been handed over to the Sports Ministry which will take a similar course of action during the other games.
A Local Organising Committee source said on the development: "We were informed by the Sports Ministry about the transference of about 26,000 tickets when the venue was shifted from Navi Mumbai to Delhi. Their own research suggested the stadium might have been empty, hence the tickets were given to the Ministry, who have distributed across various schools and colleges, which will ensure a full attendance."
More than 50,000 fans will be cheering India on at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi today, but before that, there is the small matter of a tournament opener between Ghana and Colombia at the same stadium at 5 pm. The India match will kick off at 8 pm.
While football fans in Delhi have been scrambling for tickets, the news of free passes being handed over to the Ministry will not be music to their ears. Football in India is at a crucial juncture at this moment, but the risk of not having a full stadium for what will be an advert for Indian football today was one too big to take, hence the decision to distribute free passes.