Capital likely to miss out on U-17 World Cup marquee matches

NEW DELHI: Has the capital's infamous pollution problem provided an absolutely genuine escape route for FIFA to move the marquee matches of this year's U-17 World Cup India to more football friendly environs? 

It would appear so. If all goes according to script (and SportzPower is of the view that the Beautiful Game's development in the country will be the better off for it), the capital will not get to host any U-17 World Cup knock-out game. Why? Because post-Diwali, which falls on October 19 this year, and is when the business end of the mega event is scheduled, is also when the 11th most polluted city in the world (World Health Organisation's ranking last year), will be spewing the maximum smog on its long suffering denizens. 

With the tournament scheduled to be held from October 6-28, the all-important knock-out games will be held after Diwali. So these matches are expected to be held at the other five venues - Navi Mumbai, Margao, Kochi, Guwahati and Kolkata, Indian Express reports.

U-17 World Cup tournament director Javier Ceppi told Indian Express the organising committee had studied the capital’s air quality statistics for the “last six to seven years” and are analysing the data before taking a “conscious decision” on the issue. 

“The match schedule is not finalised yet. One of the reasons for that is the pollution. And pollution in Delhi is a serious concern… particularly after Diwali. We all know this,” Ceppi told the daily on Tuesday.

While Delhi will not be stripped of all matches, it is staring at the possibility of hosting just the group-stage matches. “Until Diwali, October is decent, you can play. But after Diwali, it (pollution) shoots to a level that is extremely, extremely unhealthy. So would that mean that it may risk the capacity of Delhi hosting ‘marquee matches’ or further into the tournament? We don’t know yet,” Ceppi told Express.

Ceppi said FIFA initially expressed concern last year, and its medical council has also taken note of it. The world body, Ceppi said, is treating the issue “very, very seriously.”

FIFA’s inspection committee will survey all six venues in the country next month, and Delhi’s inclement weather is likely to be a topic of discussion, Express reports.

“That (pollution) is one thing we can’t really control, no matter what different measures are taken. You cannot reduce pollution from one day to the next, to the amount that it would need to be reduced for hosting games. It will certainly be a factor when we are considering the schedule and allocation of matches, particularly in Delhi. Because in that sense, Delhi is the one that raises the most concern,” said Ceppi, who was earlier the tournament director for the Under-17 World Cups in 2013 and 2015.

The U-17 World Cup will be the biggest football tournament to be played on Indian soil. Twenty-four countries, including host India, will be a part of it.