FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: With spruced up Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi looks to shed 'uninspiring' tag
Now that the World Cup is here, New Delhi is hoping to shed some of the baggage that is readily associated with it. It is often found to be dull, uninspiring and a hassle-prone venue. For once, Delhi has shown that it cares.
“Their jaws dropped.”
New Delhi is a potential nightmare. Ask anybody involved with the organisation of a sports event here and all you get are sighs and pained expressions. In private conversations, administrators and sports management professionals often say that the national capital is the last venue they get enthused about.
Too bad then that India will play all of their group matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here. Or maybe not. When the Local Organising Committee (LOC) shared information about the ticket sales with franchises like Delhi Dynamos a few weeks ago, “their jaws dropped”. The interest caught everyone by surprise.
Two days before the venue hopes to offer a grand opening to the U-17 World Cup, it already bore the look of a fortress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted the All India Football Federation’s invitation and he is expected to greet the sides before kick-off. A felicitation ceremony for Indian legends will precede the India-USA encounter too.
But the Prime Minister’s presence means that there are likely to be around 10,000 cops. When I spoke to Tournament Director Javier Ceppi on Wednesday, he discussed the ‘challenges’ of hosting the Indian national side in New Delhi. “Everybody wants to come to the stadium. These are not challenges, these are good problems to have. It has helped a lot because India is playing here. The level of interest, the level of preparation, the level of attention goes up definitely one or two notches. Everybody wants to see a full stadium.”
With nearly 27,000 tickets ‘routed’ through the government to ensure a packed venue, it does seem like that wish will be fulfilled. Ticket sales are still going on, although the sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore claimed on Tuesday that 24,000 had been sold.
This is why the jaws dropped. Delhi has earned notoriety over the years for a lack of interest in buying tickets. The ‘pass culture’ thrives, with self-entitlement being a bane for the organisers. However, despite accusations of an underwhelming promotional campaign, the World Cup LOC has managed to reach a number unheard of in the capital.
Reflecting on the past three years, Ceppi drew a positive picture of the changes he has seen. “There has been a massive improvement. If you look at the venue, it looks like a facility for a World Cup. Ticket sales in Delhi have been challenging in the past. Not in terms of attendance but sales. But we saw an upward trend and now we are in a healthy position.”
Ceppi is also sanguine about the spectator experience — among the listed renovations at the JLN stadium was improved facilities for fans. “All toilets have been renovated, all broken seats replaced, the campus lighting has been improved, the area around the stadium has no debris anymore. These things may seem small but for a spectator it makes a lot of difference. When the spectator comes to the stadium, they see that the facilities are cleaner, better lit. It gives them a better experience.”
Indeed, a few visits to the stadium bear testimony to the work that has gone into sprucing up the venue. According to Ceppi, the visiting teams have also been beneficiaries of the through preparation.
“All the teams are satisfied with the training facilities and hospitality. They are quite surprised about the level of the facilities. To be honest, they did not expect it. They say the training facilities can stack up with anywhere in the world.”
Delhi was not a natural choice for India’s group games but in the days leading up to the tournament, it has become clear that readiness is not one of the concerns. The Union government’s insistence on hosting India’s matches in New Delhi was not an entirely popular move but the organisers have made their compromises along the way, as they must. With public spending by the Centre nearing Rs 120 crore for the World Cup, it was inevitable that some favours would be sought.
But now that the World Cup is here, New Delhi is hoping to shed some of the baggage that is readily associated with it. It is often found to be dull, uninspiring and a hassle-prone venue. These criticisms are particularly apparent at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Those who witnessed the blitzing displays by Delhi Dynamos here last season are not many. Game after game, empty seats pierced the eye. But if the optimism surrounding the World Cup is to be believed, we are in for a significant change. The ticket sales may not even be 50 percent but the emphasis seems to be on putting a good face. It looks likely to be achieved.
If the Indian side is hoping for a raucous crowd on Friday, there is a good possibility that it can rely on the fans. The security arrangements will be beefed up but one hopes that this would not spoil the match-day experience. For once, Delhi has shown that it cares. Now it is up to the organisers to live up to their promises.
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