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Iñaki Alvarez: It’s about creating the World Cup atmosphere

FIFA Delegation in India

FIFA Delegation in India

The two-member FIFA Inspection Team led by Iñaki Alvarez (Deputy Director of Competitions & Head of Event Management Competitions Division, FIFA) has been visiting the eight probable centres among which six are to host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup [+ INDIA 2017 Facebook page].

In an exclusive interview, AIFF Media caught up with Alvarez to talk about his experiences, the challenges ahead, monitoring the pace of work and much more.


What has been your experience so far?
Our inspection trip has been very well organised. The support of the All India Football Federation has been very motivating and we are moving along as we had planned. The reception which we have received in every city has been excellent. The support, not only from local football authorities but also from respective State Governments has been very encouraging indeed. Add to that the support from the media who have shown huge interest at the venues, it has been very positive.

Are you happy with what you have inspected?
I believe that there is a lot of potential. The facilities are there and we need to take them to a certain standard. There’s plenty of time left for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup [+ INDIA 2017 Facebook page] to kick-off. Hence, there’s no emergency. But at the same time, we need to show the urgency and be sure that we move towards a certain direction.
This is normal in a country which hasn’t hosted any World Cup as yet where we have to go through the same process.

How much do you believe that the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup would be a game-changer in India?
It will be as much as India wants it to be. This is all about India. India has never hosted such a big footballing event so far.

RELATED: 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup – A Stairway to Heaven… or to Hell? [+read the article]

What are the challenges the host nation generally faces while hosting a tournament of such stature?
First and foremost, it’s the infrastructure. There are requirements as far as stadium, training facilities, logistics are concerned. Most importantly, we have to find the right combination of everything. It’s a strong process and demanding too.
You also need to have an understanding as to what is involved with a World Cup. You need not be extravagant but you need to be excellent.
On one side you have operational excellence where you have everything from transportation, to ticketing, parking, the VIP protocol, spectator services, etc.; while on the other side you have the experiential excellence. These two, go hand in hand.
One needs to take care of, for example, the experience of what a family of four experience when they are in the stadium. It starts right from the moment they purchase the ticket on the website to driving to parking to walking into the stadium, going though the security, sitting in the stands to watch football. It’s about the creating the World Cup atmosphere.

Is that the real challenge?
The real challenge stays that India has never hosted a World Cup before. If you take the U-20 and the U-17 World Cup as examples, you will see they have a different rhythm to it. In such tournaments you play two matches, rest two days, play two matches and rest and it goes in. It’s very different from professional leagues where you play once in two weeks, rest and play. The ability to sustain the rhythm over three weeks is not easy and it’s a big challenge.
But it’s not unique as far as India is concerned. It’s a challenge for any host to keep themselves motivated and work on the same.

Apart from infrastructure and the operational aspects, what are the other challenges?
There needs to be an instant connect with India and in the process, connecting with the Indian person on the street is most important. There’s lot of passion for the sport in the country and there’s also a lot of tradition and history involved with it.
We need to translate this into a meaningful connection with the person who would be going to the stadium, watch the match and be a part of this event. The manner in which they respond to it will determine the success of the event.

Can such a tournament be played on artificial turf or is it mandatory the matches are to be played on natural grass?
It can be played on both. If it’s played on an artificial surface, it needs to meet the FIFA standards. At the same time you ought to have artificial training grounds at the venue where matches would be held on the same surface.

Will FIFA monitor the progress of work?
Of course we will. We have our Development Office in New Delhi and they will keep a tab along with the All India Football Federation.

(Interview & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)