2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup – A stairway to heaven… or to hell?

Author : Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017

It was an historic day for Indian football when FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced on December 5 that India would be hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Football fans, officials and media celebrated the decision and one could feel the relief and joy amongst the Indian football fraternity to finally grab the hosting rights for such a prestigious tournament.

FIFA and especially its president Joseph S. Blatter have been pushing the cause of Indian football, the “sleeping giant of world football”, for many years. It was clear to everyone in the football business that India would host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, if the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Government of India would get things rolling in the right direction to submit India’s bid.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar handed over the bid documents to FIFA’s Director of Competitions Division Mustapha Fahmy at the FIFA Headquarters in Zurich on November 14, just a few days ahead of the end of the extended deadline. It was a tough struggle for the AIFF to receive all needed government guarantees and there were doubts until the very final moment, if India would be able to submit the bid documents due to the ponderous actions by the Government of India.

India has mastered the first hurdle and it received the reward on December 5. But the real work starts now – or to be precise: It should be already in full swing! The FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 is a golden opportunity for Indian football to put the country to the global football map and to initiate a possible game changer for the beautiful game on the sub-continent.

Hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 means that India need to fulfil various criteria set-up by FIFA to stage the tournament around the country. India need to present six state of the art football stadiums, FIFA approved training facilities, world-class infrastructure on and off the pitch including public transportation, security concepts and much more.

Furthermore India does need administrators and management professionals who have the expertise and knowledge not only to organise such an event professionally, but also realize the needs due to their vast experiences in the football business and who are aware of the peculiarities of working in India and Indian football.

India is now in the focus of the football world and the country need to deliver perfectly! India’s advantage in the last decade has been always the support of FIFA and the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 will be a close examination of Indian football. A failure would be a major setback for the game in India like it happened to other countries in the past, who failed to host a FIFA tournament successfully. It would validate suspicions made by critics around the globe.

We are now in the year 2014 and approximately three and a half years away from the opening match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. Three and a half years may sound like a very long time, but you may realize that this timeframe is quite short with all the work needed to be done. FIFA normally expect the host nation of a FIFA tournament to be fully prepared at least six months ahead of the kick-off of a competition, which cuts down the timeframe to three years.

The All India Football Federation and the Government of India need to tighten the reins and start their work to make the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 a success. There is a need to quickly set-up a FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 Local Organising Committee (LOC) and to push all the work. The work does not only include obvious things like the planning and refurbishment of the stadiums, the training pitches, infrastructure, security, etc. But there are also various topics like the overall corporate identity (e.g. logo, branding, etc.), pre-event marketing, media and public relations, evaluation of the host cities and training of the on ground staff/volunteers, etc…. the list seems to be endless and it will be extended every day as we target the opening match in 2017. And there will be even more work during the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017!

The AIFF does also need to focus on another topic which will be very important for the tournament: The Indian U-17 national team! It is important to find talented kids and to prepare them well for the finals. A competitive India U-17 team will be crucial to create a buzz around the country and to leave an encouraging legacy after the tournament.

We have been hearing from various corners of the Indian football fraternity that proper plans will be presented in the coming months and FIFA would also do the most of the work. But why should FIFA do most of the work? India handed in the bid to host the tournament and FIFA has decided to give the hosting rights to India! It’s now up to the AIFF and the Government of India to prepare the country for the finals.

It’s time for everyone involved in Indian football to start their work to stage a successful FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. The time is running and the future of Indian football will be decided with the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. A successful tournament would open the doors for Indian football to the next level which would include the hosting rights for the FIFA World Cup for senior national teams. But an organisational disaster would most probably put Indian football back by a number of years as FIFA would be forced to withdraw their support.

So it’s up to the AIFF, the Government of India and all parties involved to give an answer to my question, if the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 will be a stairway to heaven or to hell. FIFA has handed India a great chance to shine and to deliver. But is India willing and able to decide its very own football future?

I’m always positive and I believe in the future of Indian football. But one has to sound a note of caution when you feel from your very own experience that things are not moving as they should or could…