Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup Post #3: The Great & The Could Have Been Better

Note to Readers -  Please disregard the annoying gray highlight over the text for this post as for some reason it just doesn't want to go away. 

The 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup just finished with an exhilarating 5-2 England win over Spain in a match where England came back from 0-2 to score 5 unanswered goals. FIFA and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this mega-event that was officially awarded to India way back in December 2013.

As I normally do for many major sporting events that are organized in India, I’ve summarized my thoughts on the organization of this historic tournament below broken down into what was “Great” and what “Could Have Been Better.”

The Great

It Actually Happened India is a fascinating country where the unexpected can arrive out of thin air and something that is guaranteed can just disappear into thin air.  The fact that the tournament actually took place is a massive achievement and testament to the efforts of the LOC, AIFF and FIFA. They were able to persevere through Government red tape, a new Prime Mister, limited budgets, threat of terrorism, poor weather, lack of resource experience with organizing mega-events and a plethora of other foreseen and unforeseen challenges & obstacles that have shown up on their path over the past 4 years. 

The Infrastructure Looked Great I’ve been saying for awhile that the biggest legacy of the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup will be the fact that at least 6 stadiums will finally be up to FIFA standards.  I saw 2 of the facilities in person and the other 4 on TV and can say that the actual ground and training infrastructure was fantastic and worthy enough to host the best teams in the world.  I didn’t get the opportunity to experience the locker rooms or other technical facilities however I’m assuming that they were adequate as it didn’t seem like any teams complained about the facilities. 

The Staff and Volunteers Rose to the Challenge In addition to infrastructure, the other legacy that this tournament leaves are hundreds of individuals in India who now have experience organizing a mega football event.  I have a number of friends who are a part of the LOC as well as friends who are venue managers and volunteers and it seems like all of them stepped up to the best of their capacity to ensure this event was a success.  Experience supersedes any other type of education and this intensive on-the-job course on event management that staff and volunteers went through is priceless and will be beneficial in raising the quality of sporting events organized in the country in the future.

People Showed Up One of the obvious concerns leading up to the FIFA U17 World Cup was around attendance.  We all knew that people would turn up to watch India, Brazil, Spain, Germany and England play but how many people would show up to watch a Guinea vs Honduras match on a Wednesday evening in Delhi? The fact of the matter is that this challenge would exist in any tournament other than the senior men’s FIFA World Cup as there will always be fixtures that are not as exciting as the others.  What mattered though was that Indians packed the stands for the big matches which is what ensured this was the best attended FIFA U17 World Cup ever with 1,280,459 spectators over the 52 matches.

People Created Atmosphere I attended a few matches and there was definitely atmosphere within the stadium. People of varying age groups, socioeconomic classes and levels of love for the beautiful game all just seemed excited to be watching a FIFA World Cup football event. The in-stadium atmosphere was aided by the incredible way that Indians have adopted the Mexican wave which seems to endlessly flow around the stands.

The Government Showed Support India is a country where the Government has the ability to make or break an event. No matter how much we want to at times, we can never deny the important role that national, regional and local Governments play in ensuring funding is provided, making stadiums accessible and just generally giving an event credibility which does wonders for the media, sponsors, supporters and other stakeholders involved with the project. Throughout the build up to and during the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup, the Government was actively involved at every level and showed their support with their presence at many of the key matches.

The Media Took Interest   I was amazed with how much traditional media covered this tournament. Every day there would be mentions on the front page of all major newspapers and then the back pages would be full of articles, editorials and other facts and figures about the tournament.  I remember sitting with my Father-in-Law a few weeks ago at his home in Delhi and him asking me if I think this event is creating popularity for football in India, I just opened up the Times of India lying in front of me and showed him the back 3 pages covered with youth footballers.  In a country of 1.25 billion people, it’s absolutely incredible to see so much coverage about a sports events played by 17 year olds where India was on its way to getting last place. 

There Was an Unforgettable Moment There are so many incredible moments during a FIFA World Cup however every tournament needs to have that one unforgettable moment.  Something that people will talk about for decades, something that those that watched it live in the stadium or on TV will never forget where they were when they saw it happen, something that sparks emotion just thinking about it.  Whether it is positive moments like when football minnows Senegal beat France in the 2002 World Cup or Tim Cahill’s incredible goal against The Netherlands in 2014 or negative ones like Zidane head-butting Materazzi in the 2006 Final or Messi’s “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986.  During this U17 FIFA World Cup, “the moment” was Indian midfielder Jackson Singh heading in an 82nd minute corner kick to level the score at 1-1 with Colombia.  I was one of the lucky people watching the match live from inside Nehru Stadium and can honestly say it was the most I’ve cheered for any goal ever. 


The Could Have Been Better

Ticket Distribution Was Flawed & Stressful Ticket distribution is always a challenge in India and not just for sports events, one experiences challenges in ticket collection at music concerts, festivals, marathons, etc… Knowing this, I made it a point to purchase my own tickets for the match and have them sent to my In-Law’s home in Delhi versus asking someone in the LOC to sort them out which always leads to last second tension for all involved.  Even with this approach, I still found myself spending 3 hours at Nehru stadium on the day of the US vs India match begging the person at the ticket window to give me the 1 ticket that they forgot to send to me.  I was surrounded by hundreds of other people who were struggling to pick up their tickets and the whole scene was frustrating & stressful.  In addition, throughout the tournament, one could see that many “sold out” matches were far from sold out given the number of empty seats which means that those tickets that were distributed were not actually used. All that being said, I would still say that the ticketing partner Kyazoonga did a decent job however these are just some issues that need to be continually addressed.   

Stressful Stadium Experience As with most events in India, the stadium-goer’s experience leaves much to be desired. There is parking lot traffic leading up to the stadium, long queues and multiple security check-points filled with over-zealous security guards, limited access to food and water inside of the stadium and if you happen arrive at the incorrect entry gate you could end up walking kilometres until they let you in to a half empty stand. This needs to change if we ever want the average middle or upper middle class Indian to actually purchase tickets and comfortably attend an Indian sporting event. 

The Same Ad Over and Over and Over For some reason, during every major sporting event broadcast in India one advertisement will be created and played every time there are a few minutes of free air time.  The ad would be shown so much that there comes a moment after the 150th time of seeing it that anyone would start to dislike the brand.  This definitely happened as Hero Motocorp put together a great TV spot as part of their Play.Inspire campaign which actually included a short cameo of one of my best friend’s daughters but then Sony just killed it by playing the ad way too much. 

India Matches Could Have Been Spread Out Being in the stadium to watch your own country compete in a FIFA World Cup match is a once in a lifetime experience and this opportunity should have been provided to more Indians. All 3 of the India group stage matches were hosted in Delhi to appease the Government however it would have been better if India could have played in Delhi, Mumbai and Guwahati to ensure people from across the country could have had the pleasure of watching their home country live.  The fact that many of the players hail from the NorthEast would have made an India match in Guwahati extraordinary for the people in this Region.

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Overall, the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup was a wonderful tournament and everyone involved should be proud of themselves for putting together a historic and memorable show.  My intention now is to build off of this momentum as I continue to establish my own football partnerships and programmes and I urge that all other stakeholders to do the same.  These unique opportunities do not come often and we must always look to capitalize on them while the iron is hot to further the industry we are all trying to grow. 
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