Two years and some 17,000 kilometres are what currently separate India from Chile, where the curtain falls this Sunday on the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015. And while the distance may be evident, the time is how long the South Asian country has until it stages the next edition of the event in 2017.
The passing of hosting duties took place in Vina del Mar shortly before Sunday’s final with officials from the Chile 2015 Local Organising Committee (LOC) presiding over a symbolic handover to Javier Ceppi, the Director of the India 2017 finals, and Kushal Das, the Indian FA General Secretary and member of the Organising Committee of India 2017.
“This is a hugely significant opportunity, not only for Indian football but for the global game,” said Ceppi of the 2017 tournament. Indeed, India will be hosting and participating in its first FIFA World Cup, and doing so in a way that only it could. “We’re talking about a population of 1.25 billion, a gigantic market and a huge passion for football. We’re aiming to create an enormous impact by hosting this tournament,” he added.
Ceppi, a Chilean, has already been with the LOC in India for a year, making him the ideal person to ask about the potential for the 2017 tournament to alter the sporting panorama on the sub-continent: “It will be the biggest sporting event in India’s history. They’ve hosted a Cricket World Cup there and a hockey one too, but this will be the first with a huge amount of countries seeking to qualify. The tournament will be broadcast in 200 countries – they’ve never had something on that scale before, so we cannot wait.”
To the casual observer, the FIFA U-17 World Cup may be just a three-week affair. Not so for Ceppi, who is aiming to “create a scenario in which 11 million kids get involved in football, 2.8 million fans attend games in the stadia, 300 million Indians get introduced to the game and some 600 million follow the tournament on televisions. Something like that would change the history of sport in the country,” he insisted.
Not only are the objectives clear, but so too are the required steps to be taken. According to Ceppi, the LOC are working closely with the highest governmental officials to make football an integral part of the sporting programme in schools: “It doesn’t matter if kids are playing two-a-side, three-a-side or four-a-side. What matters is that they start to develop a love for the game over the next two years.”
And it is a game that is steadily winning over large sections of India’s population, making it the second national sport today. “In India, they’re fanatical about the English and Spanish leagues, as well as the national teams of Argentina, Brazil and Germany. Football is growing in popularity all the time,” said Ceppi, who values the experience gained in closely following the preparatory work done by his compatriots ahead of Chile 2015.
“Our delegation will leave Chile clear in the knowledge that you cannot organise an event like this day by day, but rather with a two- or three-year plan. Details are what make all the difference and we cannot leave anything to chance. The fans who come to India, as well as the teams, are going to be impressed by the passion of local people and the standard of organisation we have there.
"Despite having the kind of problems you don’t normally see in the west, it organises a wonderful cricket league," he concluded. "If it were football, it’d be right up there with La Liga or the Premier League. India 2017 is going to be truly impressive."