Can sporting shows surrounded by poverty ever be justified?

Special Can sporting shows surrounded by poverty ever be justified?
England won the recent Under-17 World Cup held in India. (Reuters)
Updated 02 November 2017

Can sporting shows surrounded by poverty ever be justified?

Can sporting shows surrounded by poverty ever be justified?

KOLKATA:  Be it the townships close to Soccer City in Johannesburg or the favelas near the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, it is always a jarring sight to see a grandiose sports arena so sharply juxtaposed with surrounding poverty. When it came to last month’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India, the situation appeared no different: The one-legged panhandler in Goa who negotiates the daily traffic near to Nehru Stadium in his wheelchair; the scruffy child begging for a ticket in Delhi when tickets start at just 60 cents.
It is believed around $100 million was spent on the tournament, which was held across six Indian cities. Approximately $19 million was provided by FIFA, the central government gave each state $14 million, and private entities also invested. Yet while Brazil, South Africa and other countries to recently host mega-events were criticized for not finding funds for societal essentials but still pumped millions into sporting white elephants, India organized a tournament that was not only embraced by the public, but was also recognized as relatively austere. 
India hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010 at a cost of more than $4 billion and Brazil’s 2014 World Cup cost about $15 billion. Both budgets ballooned as the events neared. Naturally the hosting demands of an age-group World Cup are substantially less, yet the feeling was that money had been spent wisely, priorities had been pragmatic. 
A good example arrived on opening day as India prepared to face the US in Delhi in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Unthinkable in São Paulo or Sochi, the seats inside the Nehru Stadium remained caked in dust and an entire floor of the administrative arm of the arena looked like a construction site. Putting on a show of pretense was not on the agenda; instead, emphasis was on security, legacy and, ultimately, the game itself. 
“The focus must be on the football,” FIFA’s tournament director Javier Ceppi told Arab News ahead of the opening night, which did not feature an opening ceremony. “This event is incomparable with a Commonwealth Games or a senior World Cup. It is a completely different ball game. But even compared to other U17 World Cups, the budget has been kept restrained.”
Government money spent on infrastructure was provided from the sport budget, meaning if India had not hosted the event, the money would have been spent on other sporting projects instead, added Ceppi.
So it was football that received a boost at a time when the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) is aiming to attract more major events, including the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which India is so far the only bidding nation.
“All stakeholders have worked closely to ensure there is no duplicated effort or increased spending,” said Kishore Taid, the chief operations officer at the AIFF. “This tournament is unlikely to make a big impact economically because India’s GDP is already so high, but for Indian football it will have a huge impact.”
India has 98 stadiums with capacities of more than 20,000. Eight of those are now recognized as FIFA-ready, while 17 new training facilities have been created across the country. Several of the facilities are included in the country’s “Come and Play Scheme”, a government initiative that enables the public to use the amenities.
And while cricket is the sport associated with India, the attendances have demonstrated an obvious passion for the beautiful game, with host cities enjoying near-full stadiums. 
In Kolkata, more than 66,000 turned out for the quarterfinal between Brazil and Germany. When FIFA announced bad weather had forced the semifinal to be moved from Guwahati to Kolkata, more than a million fans tried to log on and secure a place in the online ticketing queue. For comparison, 3.5 million people worldwide had requested tickets in the entire first sales phase for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. 
The government and AIFF recognize the importance of the northeast in terms of football. In the state of Nagaland, a proposal to build 100 football grounds has been sent to the Department of Youth Resources and Sports. Similarly, there are plans in place to set up a national sports university in Manipur, the tiny state home to six of the 21 players in India’s squad, including midfielder Ninthoinganba Meetei who lived in a cow shed with his mother and two sisters before being selected to play for his national team.
“Football is growing in India, no doubt about it,” said Taid. “We have always known there is passion for the game in places like Kolkata or Kerala, but now we are seeing interest in places like Delhi too.” 
For India’s game against Ghana in the capital, the attendance was registered as a city record of 52,614. It does not make the juxtaposition with the poverty outside the stadium any easier to swallow, but with the likes of Meetei playing and genuine interest in the stands, it does suggest a legacy that could last long after last week’s final.