The tournament’s Project Director discussed several topics in the build-up to its staging in India later this year.

India will host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in October 2022. In the build-up to the tournament, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup is organising ‘Kick Off The Dream’ football carnivals in each of the cities selected as venues. One such carnival organized at the Cooperage Ground on Sunday had kids from local NGOs, football academies and schools participating in the event.

Khel Now got an opportunity to speak with Nandini Arora, Project Director of the Local Organising Committee of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2022.

Impact of postponement

The World Cup was to happen in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put the tournament’s plans in doubt. Eventually, FIFA cancelled that edition and anointed India as the host of the 2022 edition. Nandini Arora believes that the postponement of the mega event will have little to no impact on the successful organisation of the tournament.

“It (The tournament) was supposed to be in 2020, but it got postponed to 2021. Then that edition was cancelled. This is a new edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Everything is as good and as perfect as it was earlier. So, there is no impact as such. Of course, players who couldn’t play in the last edition – that is an unfortunate situation for them. Organisation-wise, we are as enthusiastic as we were for the previous edition,” she explained.

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The Kick Off the Dream event in Navi Mumbai on Mothers Day (Courtesy: LOC FIFA WWC)

Optimistic about the success of the tournament

The government has eased restrictions, with masks not mandatory anymore in some states. However, cases are on the rise again. The Project Director of the tournament knows that it is difficult to tell what the situation will be like in October. But, she is optimistic. She has faith in the LOC’s ‘plan B’, if things were to go south.

“Things are opening now, but we have seen with COVID that you never know. You can’t predict anything. Whatever happens in life now, we are always going to be COVID-ready. So similarly, we have a plan B ready. In case anything goes wrong, we can switch to plan B. But, it looks like things are going to be fine. We are thinking positive at this time. We have already reduced the venues from five to three. It was supposed to initially happen in five venues, but we have cut it down keeping all that in mind,” Nandini Arora affirmed.

Cancellation is not in the plans

The AIFF had to cancel the tournament once. But, they will make sure it doesn’t get cancelled this year. The LOC has discussed all the possible options if the COVID situation in the host states worsens. Nandini Arora suggested organising the tournament in a bio-bubble if the cases rise again.

“If the situation goes really bad, and if we have to actually do it in a bubble, then, of course, we will have to. Cancellation is not an option. We have learnt that. So many events have happened globally during the pandemic. So, we will figure out a way of doing it. But, it will happen. We are not going to cancel. We will have to do it in the bubble if things go downward,” the LOC official suggested.

Cases in Indian camp not a failure of the organising committee

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The Indian Women’s Team exited the tournament after COVID cases in the camp (Courtesy: AFC Media)

India hosted the AFC Women’s Asian Cup earlier this year. The tournament was a multi-venue event. The Indian national team had a COVID outbreak in their camp right after the first group stage game, leaving them without enough players to participate in the remaining fixtures. 

And so, the host side had to forfeit their matches. Nandini Arora underscored that the falling of the team due to the outbreak had nothing to do with the overall arrangements for the tournament.

“When you do something, you always learn something out of it. But, it was perfectly managed. Of course, unfortunately, what happened with the Indian team is a different thing. But, it has nothing to do with the overall arrangements or tournament organisation for that matter. Everything was okay. There were teams who came and went with zero cases. So, it was very unfortunate what happened with the Indian team,” she stated.

Will fans be allowed to attend games?

The Women’s Asian Cup had no fans allowed inside the stadium. As a host nation, India broke several attendance records in the 2017 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The success of the 2017 edition due to the record engagement of the fans was one of the central reasons why India could get the rights to host the U-17 Women’s World Cup.

And as of now, the LOC is expecting the tournament to have spectators. Speaking on the issue, the LOC Project Director said, “Whatever the state guidelines will be at that time will be followed. If we are allowed to have 25% or 50%. Whatever the state guidelines, we will be following them. It is going to be a tournament with spectators.”

Legacy programs in the build-up to the tournament

Kick Off The Dream
Still from the latest Kick Off the Dream event (Courtesy: LOC FIFA WWC)

The LOC aims to promote gender-inclusive participation in the sport throughout the country. Women are being encouraged to take football as a profession through the Coach Education Scholarship Programme. The other legacy programme “Kick Off The Dream” encourages kids of all genders to play the beautiful game.

Speaking on the two programs, Nandini Arora stated, “Biggest legacy for us will be leaving a footballing culture in the country. This carnival is part of the legacy program. We are doing this for the kids. It’s like a familiarisation for them with football. There are all kinds of football-related games there. It’s to tell them football is such an easy game. You just need a ball and some friends, and you all can go out and play. 

“Other than that, we are doing a lot of other legacy programs. We have a Coach Education Scholarship Programme. We’ve already trained 138 coaches in this program. These include E-License coaches as well as D-License coaches. The second stage is we are training coaches for D licence programs. And then, of course, the progression will go to C and B licenses also,” she added.

Participation of the kids in Kick Off The Dream carnival

AIFF will organise Kick Off The Dream football carnivals in all the venues. Navi Mumbai has now hosted two such events, with the LOC planning to host four at every venue. The event has witnessed more than expected participation from the kids, and the organising committee is happy to be able to help promote the sport in the country.

“The first carnival happened in Navi Mumbai. The turnout was more than we expected. Kids who have never played football had come. We had to actually go and tell that isko header bolte hai, isko goalpost bolte hai (this is what a header is and this is the goalpost). We were happy to give them little things related to football, to play with them. It is very nice. The kids are liking it. They turn up and want us to come back to Mumbai again. We have about 12 of these carnivals planned, four in each state if things are okay,” Nandini Arora described.

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