Football’s world governing body FIFA has made it clear that it is not comfortable with the Indian government’s plan of having an opening ceremony for the Under-17 World Cup, saying the money should instead be spent on the game.
From the very beginning, the world body and the Local Organising Committee have been insisting that FIFA tournaments do not have opening ceremonies worldwide but the sports ministry has been adamant about having one for the event next month.
The sports ministry wanted to host an opening ceremony either on October 5, a day before the start of the prestigious tournament here, or on October 6, just a few hours before the kick-off.
Asked what the world body thinks about the government’s plan to hold an opening ceremony, FIFA’s Head of Tournaments Jaime Yarza made it quite apparent that such a plan was not particularly welcome.
“FIFA and the Local Organising Committee of the FIFA U-17 World Cup have been working very closely with the Government of India to make the upcoming tournament a great success. During the course of this work, FIFA has been informed about the GoI’s interest in holding an opening ceremony for the FIFA U-17 World Cup,” Yarza told PTI in an e-mail interview.
“To be in line with previous tournaments, and in the best interest of the sport, we believe that the main focus should remain on football and the players, and that the investment necessary for an opening ceremony is better deployed in the youth and in football development of the country — even more so now with the AIFF’s ambitious plans to lay solid foundations for India’s footballing future,” he added.
The Under-17 World Cup, the first ever FIFA event India is hosting, will be played in six cities — New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Kochi and Margao — from October 6 to 28.
Yarza said the Indian government has offered unstinted support to the organisers to make the U-17 World Cup successful.
“The Government of India, and most importantly the Prime Minister of India, are important partners in this U-17 World Cup. They have relentlessly supported the tournament and encouraged the Indian people, through the tournament’s legacy programme Mission XI Million, to play football and to attend the matches in the six host cities.
“The government’s backing of the tournament over the past three years and commitment to change the sporting culture in the country is something we are very proud of and happy about,” the FIFA official said.
Yarza said the preparations of the U-17 World Cup, which begins in less than a month, have been progressing as per schedule and FIFA was confident that the prestigious tournament will be a success.
“Our partners in place, the Local Organising Committee and the AIFF, have confirmed that the preparations are going according to the plans laid together with them. We are very confident that this trend will continue and that India’s first FIFA tournament will be a resounding success.
“It’s now time to implement the second stage of the overlay programme in close cooperation with the LOC and the Government of India.”
He said a FIFA team will fly down to India two weeks before the start of the tournament to visit the venues and make sure that all arrangements live upto the requirements of the teams, the public, the media and the marketing partners.
Regarding the ticket sales of the tournament, he said, “Generally speaking, the ticket sales have been a great success and the tickets for some matches made available in the first sales phases sold out after just a few hours.
“…I can only encourage Indian football fans to secure their tickets as soon as possible to be part of this historic moment in India.”