Guwahati, Oct. 7: It is hard to miss the childlike enthusiasm in the voice of Debashis Roy on the eve of the Guwahati leg of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup, starting tomorrow evening amid elaborate security and traffic arrangement.
This palpable excitement in the 62-year-old has as much to do with his love for the “beautiful game” which he played with distinction in India colours #and in those of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal# through the late seventies and eighties, as with the opportunities the successful hosting of the 24-team mega event will throw up for Guwahati which has been his base for football activities since his return from Calcutta in 1989.
“It is a huge thing – playing and hosting a Fifa World Cup event even if it is an age group one. I never thought I would see such a day in my lifetime – India playing and hosting World Cup football. To me, it is God’s gift to India, Guwahati and the Northeast. It will truly put Guwahati on the international sports map. Credit goes to Dispur and our chief minister #Sarbananda Sonowal#. Now they should take this sporting movement forward. We are on the cusp of history,” Roy told The Telegraph from hometown Karimganj in Barak Valley.
New Caledonia will play France in the first match here at 5pm tomorrow.
Guwahati’s date with sporting history has not been lost on the local organisers or the state government promoting the city as the emerging sports capital of India. And not without reason: the capital is one of the six host cities for the maiden Fifa event being held in India from October 6.
Thanking Dispur for its support, sports minister Naba Doley said this afternoon that the city is ready for the event and sought everyone’s cooperation for its smooth conduct.
Roy feels the successful hosting of the World Cup will stand Guwahati in good stead for senior Fifa meets, including the Under-20 World Cup in 2019. “Guwahati has hosted international meets in the past but a Fifa event is different, not like cricket which is played by a handful of countries. Therefore, we must ensure everything is in order so that the visiting teams go back with fond memories about us and the city,” he said.
Founded in 1904, Fifa has 211 members.
The regional director of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Subhas Basumatary, echoes Roy. “Fifa event or the Olympics is in a different league. The scale, the reach, the exposure are much more than the others because football is the most popular game in the world. There are more Fifa members than UN members. The meet will further boost football in the Northeast which already has 10 players in the India team. It is a big event for Guwahati. It will also boost the image of Guwahati,” said Basumatary. It is clear that Basumatary, like Roy, believes in the event’s tagline – Football Takes Over.
UMANAND JAISWAL Telegraph India