'Mission XI Million is the most ambitious football engagement programme to date in India.'
Javier Ceppi, tournament director for the 2017 Under-17 football World Cup, which India will host, says the local organising committee's main intention is to provide a great experience to everyone attending the tournament.
The U-17 World Cup will be held from October 6 to 28; the matches are to held in Navi Mumbai, Goa, New Delhi, Guwahati, Kochi and Kolkata.
The All India Football Federation's local organising committee is working with the government to ensure that the event is a massive success.
Rediff.com's Laxmi Negi spoke to Javier Ceppi about the event.
How ready is India to host the 2017 Under-17 FIFA World Cup? I heard Kochi is still lagging...
The progress that Kochi has made from the inspection visit we made has been significant and they appear in line to comply with the deadlines given by FIFA, which are May 15 for core infrastructure matters in the stadium, May 30 for core infrastructure matters for the training sites.
We make regular visits to Kochi and at this point of time there are not major reasons to be concerned about their capacity to stick to the deadlines.
How did Mumbai miss out on hosting the final? You have always been positive about the D Y Patil stadium. What happened?
We still feel the D Y Patil stadium is a very good facility and that was the reason it was rewarded with a semi-final for the tournament, which is a very important match and speaks volumes about their commitment and readiness for the event.
For the decision of the final there were other considerations that had to be taken into place.
For example, one factor is that the venue of the final needs to have 6 training grounds instead of the four ones asked of all other venues within a certain distance of the main hotels, because the referees would be staying and training there.
This is something that is currently present in Kolkata and not at other venues.
Another factor is the presence of a large inventory of 5 star hotel rooms within the vicinity of the main stadium, something that unfortunately was not there for Navi Mumbai.
Like this, there are many other factors that go into place for choosing the final venue. We believe Kolkata ticked the boxes the most.
Also, support from the state government is crucial. West Bengal has gone out of its way to ensure that everything is in place for the World Cup, that all protocols are followed and respected as per the guidelines given to them.
What do we have as a run-up to the World Cup other than the Mission XI Million?
Mission XI Million is the most ambitious football engagement programme to date in India. It is a model across the world, so it is no small feat.
If there is a revolution for football in India it will be because of the Mission XI Million.
It has increased massively the interest in the FIFA U-17 World Cup among school children all around India, so it serves as a very strong promotional tool.
The access we have to schools is something that money cannot buy. We are sure it has had a very significant role in the promotion for the World Cup so far.
Apart from that, there are visits from FIFA Legends, like the one Carles Puyol is doing in India from May 15 to 17, which will give a major boost to the promotional aspect of the World Cup.
This is a major undertaking we are doing for India and we are sure football fans will really appreciate it.
What about getting spectators to the stadiums?
The interest we have seen from people all around the country when we announced that we will launch ticket sales on May 16 at 19:11 has been very encouraging.
It gives us a good feeling about ticket sales and the attendance at the stadiums.
Heavier promotion for the event will happen after the draw takes place on July 7, which is when we would know which team is playing where.
There is a very big responsibility for the host cities on this front. They are in charge of branding the city and conducting promotional activities to engage their populations with the World Cup.
We have been working with them for a long time to ensure that it happens.
What areas do we need to improve?
We are working with all stakeholders to make sure everything can fall as per regulations and requirements, so that there are no areas that would lag behind.
The main intention is to provide a great experience to everyone attending the tournament.
Which areas are you pleased with?
There has been improvement in all areas since we first came to India in 2014, which is quite commendable.
This improvement has mostly been done by public organisations, be it the central government, the state government, municipal bodies or others.
We expect all the infrastructure to be ready very soon so that we are in a position to do extensive testing before the start of the event.
Is there enough time for Luis Norton de Matos to prepare the team for the World Cup?
Although we cannot comment on any particular team, what I can say is that changing coaches before the tournament is something not unusual for the hosts.
Chile changed the coach six months before the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 and they got to the round of 16.
South Korea changed the coach recently before the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea 2017, so it is quite common and teams are ready for it.
Sometimes, a change of coach is good for the teams.
What would be a realistic result for Team India in the World Cup?
The only thing we can say is that we are very confident that India will put a competitive performance which will do the country proud.
This is the first World Cup India will be playing on and people should focus on how well the team has represented the country on the field rather than being caught up with the results.
You have travelled a lot in this country. Which place impressed you when it comes to its football talent?
The North-East is fantastic when it comes to talent.
They have nothing to envy the major hotspots of football talent in the world.
The team that will represent India in the U-17 World Cup has a heavy presence of players from the North-East. That is becoming the engine on which Indian football will rely for talent.
Football is the number one sport there by far, so kids are used to playing the game, which gives them an understanding and awareness that is very important when you are looking at the complete toolkit that makes a footballer.