Best foot forward
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FIFA has set the ball rolling. It's up to India to score the goal now.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter's "geopolitical" decision to award the 2017 Under-17 World Cup to India might just be the shot in the arm the sport needed in the country. Though an age-group tournament, it is one of the biggest sporting events to be played in India. While the nation has hosted multi-discipline events such as the Commonwealth and Asian Games, and cricket world cups, those aren't global events in the true sense of the word. The sheer magnitude of an international football tournament — 24 nations from five continents — and the hype it generates, separates it from the rest. India will be hoping to prove a point to FIFA and the rest of the world.
More importantly, though, it will help the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in developing an ecosystem for the sport in the country. The purpose of this tournament is to mobilise youth development projects and build infrastructure in the host country. India lags behind in both these aspects and the AIFF is hoping to use this as an opportunity to put its house in order. India has only two stadiums that meet FIFA's standards, in Chennai and New Delhi. So abysmal is the current state of affairs that I-League club Mumbai FC play their "home" matches in Pune and Kolhapur, whereas four teams — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting and United SC — share one stadium in Kolkata. As part of the deal, India is expected to have at least six stadiums that comply with international standards.
The event also provides the AIFF an opportunity to engage India's army of football fans, their numbers having multiplied after satellite television brought top-quality football to their living room. The Under-17 World Cup can finally see the couch potatoes trickle into stadiums. Once there, the AIFF needs to ensure that the fans get into the habit of filling the stands.
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