The All India Football Federation (AIFF) can bask in glory following the conclusion of a spectacular Under-17 World Cup in the City of Joy on Saturday. It was a delectable icing on the cake for the young England lions as the triumph helped settle scores with Spain, which had thwarted their bid in the Under-17 European Championship summit clash in May.
Lest one forgets, the country made it to the extravaganza by virtue of being the host, which gets a natural qualification in any FIFA event. Today, it sounds nothing but a case of ‘sour-grapes’ when regretting that ‘we were placed in a tough Group A’. That is rather preposterous considering that India would have fared no better even when drawn in any other group.
After all, the other 23 contenders made it to the top draw on the strength of their consistent showings in the qualifying rounds, implying that, qualitatively, they were the best in the business. Such is the ruthless intensity of the competition that defending champions Nigeria failed to qualify for the latest edition!
Post-the event, it is essential that the FIFA bosses do not get carried away by the milestones that the championship fetched for India. It is good that the world is lauding the host for registering the largest attendance in the event’s history. It is also good that tournament director Javier Ceppi has called India a ‘footballing nation’.
Words like ‘sleeping giant’ are but to satiate one’s bloated ego and not to enliven any football culture, per se. One should not get carried away by ‘whopping’ figures like 1,347,131 fans, who thronged the stadiums. They don’t stand testimony to India’s caliber as a playing nation in any manner.
Given that such sell-out attendance is common place at Salt Lake and Eden Gardens even for inconsequential tournaments and international cricket fixtures, the delirious fans would not be found napping when the crème de la crème is in town.
The only big gain India achieved was in showcasing its organisational acumen. It is a different matter altogether that FIFA boss, Gianni Infantino, dashed the hopes of Praful Patel, and his ilk, when he remained non-committal on India’s bid to host the Under-20 World Cup, two years down the line.
The most feasible advice has come from Sunil Chhetri. His ‘ensure that the infrastructure that has been created for the mega event is made appropriate use of’ plea is an eye-opener. The message is loud and clear-sustain the craze for football with a clear-cut roadmap.