Rs 100 crore has been spent on the sprucing up of the stadium according to FIFA’s very stringent standards and the venue if 98 per cent ready
It was in 1977 that soccer wizard Pele, as part of the Cosmos Soccer team, displayed some of his magic in an exhibition game against Mohun Bagan at the Eden Gardens. That was the maiden brush of the city’s soccer lovers with international football. More than two decades later, in 2011, Argentina’s Lionel Messi made his debut in the city in the Salt Lake Stadium in a friendly tie. Interestingly, both the matches were just one day affair. And both Pele as well as Messi just played for a few minutes because they complained that the ground was too uneven and they could suffer leg injuries.
That the city could ever host an international soccer tourney—that too, a World Cup— remained more or less a dream. The International Football Federation (FIFA) has extremely stringent standards as to how a stadium ought to be, and there was not a stadium in the country till now that fulfilled the criteria, from ground levelling, to grass quality, to players’ boxes and sponsors’ boxes, to dressing rooms and spectator galleries.
However, the countdown has begun for the unveiling of the Under17- World Cup Soccer Championship in the revamped, renovated and refurbished Salt Lake Stadium (rechristened as Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan) on October 8 next. Not only the inaugural two ties – England Vs Chile at 5 pm and Mexico Vs Iraq at 8 pm the stadium will host eight other matches including the quarterfinal and the all important final on October 28.
A complete metamorphosis – hard to believe, indeed – has taken place since the West Bengal government took up the proposal of FIFA for staging the matches in Kolkata. Built over 76.40 acres of land, the stadium was first inaugurated in January, 1984. It was the venue for Athletics during the 1987 South Asian Games that India hosted. Since then, a lot of water has flown down the Ganga and the work for transforming the stadium into one to suit the international soccer standard has quietly began.
From the astro turf to seats, tunnels to dressing rooms, high quality glass walls for unblemished viewing to adjacent training fields – the stadium has become a welcome treat to the eyes. Once famous for accommodating around 1.31 lakh crowd, the highest in Asia, the stadium has been reduced to a 66,687capacity stadium for the World Cup after FIFA enforced a guideline following a safety study with the Sports Ground Safety Authority of the UK. In the event of an emergency, all the bucket seats would be empty in eight minutes sharp!
The facelift, though quiet, has been a determined effort. After FIFA authorities raised objections about the astro turf grass, the state government ordered import of special grass from the United States. Saplings brought from America were first planted at Bangalore before being ferried aboard trucks to Kolkata. This special grass is glossy green and extremely shiny. Executive glass boxes have been installed for the corporate crowd.
FIFA has also made it mandatory that the training ground has to be as close to the main venue as possible. Two new training grounds have accordingly been built next to the VIP gate to facilitate players’ closed-door work-outs in the field. Along with this, there are many an addition that are firsts for the new-look venue.
The most important among them are the tunnel, referees’ changing room, players’ washroom and a special room for the ball boys and girls.
“When players like Belgian goalkeeper Kristof Van Hout(6.8 ft) or English striker Peter Crouch(6.7ft) or Chilean rightout Alexis Valencia (6.5 ft) line up in the tunnel, they’ll not have to bend their heads fearing a bumpy ceiling. A clearance of 7.8ft has been provided in the revamped tunnel to enable footballers of all heights to walk straight,” explained an official involved in the facelift.
The changing room wears a brand new look, with a bench to accommodate 25 players, each of whom has been provided with a wooden peg to hand jerseys, a drawer for boots and a cabinet to store other soccer gears.
Four changing rooms have been provided in the stadium; two of them are equipped with 25 lockers while the rest 23. Washrooms have been split into two separate areas – dry and wet.
It is only but natural that when the stadium was handed over to the Local Organising Committee(LOC) director Javier Ceppi, he gave it a 10 out of 10 rating.
“The stadium is at par with any world class venue that has hosted a FIFA World Cup final. If you ask me, it looks like a museum, be the entrance or the inside… or like the teams said, it looks the lobby of a five-star hotel,” Ceppi said last week after West Bengal principal secretary (sports) Saeed Ahmed Bawa signed the official document to hand over the stadium. “It’s close to 98 per cent complete and it’s now our responsibility to take it to the next level.” There is hardly any major work left, except “two or three things.” Ceppi, however, declined to compare the stadium with five other venues which are scheduled to hold matches during the October 6-28 championship. According to him, handover means LOC takes certain responsibility and certain decision-making with regard to the final phase of rectification and related work to enable the facility to become fully operational for the tournament.
The initial short-list of 10 venues in the host cities of New Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, Margao, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Kochi, Guwahati, and Navi Mumbai.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved