Sunday 29 October 2017, 12:55

Bhattacharjya: India 2017 has been amazing

  • Joy Bhattacharjya was a key player in organising India 2017

  • Even as Project Director he was surprised at how the country took to the tournament

  • Indian crowd singing as hosts played Colombia will be his most lasting memory

For a FIFA tournament to be successfully run, there many people that play their part in these endeavours. As the Project Director for the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, Joy Bhattacharjya was a key individual in making the first FIFA tournament in the South Asian country a success this month.

Before the final matchday in Kolkata on Saturday, spoke to Bhattacharjya about his three-year involvement in making India 2017 a reality over the past few weeks.

What challenges did you experience in your role? You are literally dealing with seven governments, so there were a wide variety of challenges that a country like this holds. Getting national supporters on board was a huge challenge because this was a U-17 World Cup. In the end, however, these sponsors were extremely happy to be a part of it because we managed to make it large enough for them to view their investment as a success. The final challenge was changing the mindset of people, in terms of sport and events in India.

How did you see the tournament unfold over the past month? I think it’s been amazing. We know we could make this big, but the fact that it became as big as it did has surprised even us. If you look at the newspapers, cricket was third news on the sports pages after the semi-finals. The Brazil-England match led it, then after that, it was the Spain-Mali encounter. You cannot believe what a change that is in India. Also, to see 50,000 people in New Delhi and actually cheering for a team after they’ve lost, that kind of sporting spirit has not been seen in India before.

What will be the legacy of India 2017? We need to look at it in two different ways. The first thing was that we could do a clean, transparent tournament that was world class. That was our stated objective from the very start. Whatever money we make from ticket sales or sponsors, we wanted that to go to football. The other thing was the 26 training fields that were made. We hope these training sites become hubs for football. There is also the 300-odd people that have worked at the LOC, who have the experience of what a World Cup is like, and the 2,500 volunteers that we’ve had involved with the tournament. We also had this amazing grassroots programme called Mission XI Million.

Is India capable of hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2019? I’m confident of that. I don’t see that as an issue at all. Now seeing this tournament, two or three cities in the country will jump at the chance to host games as well. We’ll be spoiled for choice if we host the U-20 World Cup.

What will be your abiding memory of this U-17 World Cup? My abiding memory will be the second match that India played . Colombia scored, then we scored, which was amazing. Seconds later, as a young and inexperienced side, they forgot their defence and Colombia scored again. With about seven minutes to go, there is this Indian song that is the Hindi version of ‘We Shall Overcome’, which we have all heard. Suddenly, we heard the crowd slowly starting to sing that song, and I felt that was a huge start for Indian football. We shall overcome some day.