Beyond Cricket – Lucknow set for a footballing boost

  Uttar Pradesh is a state that one would not usually associate with the sport of football. It has never won the inter-state Santosh Trophy and very few players from the state have represented India at the highest level.

  However, if all goes well, the state is all set to recieve a massive shot in the arm as far as the promotion of football is concerned. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is known to be a keen sports aficionando, unveiled late last year an ambitious plan to construct a world-class football stadium in the capital city of Lucknow.

  The stadium itself is part of a larger sporting blueprint, which has envisaged a top-notch sports city near Shaheed Path on Sultanpur Road. Yadav had broken the news in September 2015 at an event in Agra where he was present to launch the logo of the Delhi Dynamos football club. The Dynamos play in the Indian Super League, which was started in 2014.

  Yadav had then said that football is the most popular sport in the world and is played in some states of India; therefore it would not be good if Uttar Pradesh lagged behind in this respect. He assured full support to the spread of football in the state and was also hopeful that more players from the state would go on to represent the Dynamos in the future, adding that ‘its biggest advantage is that it is not an expensive game and can be played anywhere.’

  According to a government official, the initial plan was for a football field in the sports city. However, the Chief Minister made a brief visit to the project site in December and proclaimed that a first-rate, full-fledged football stadium should be built instead. The stadium is slated to be built on an area measuring 7.5 acres, out of the 137 acres allotted for the sports city.

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      Akhilesh Yadav during a Delhi Dynamos event in 2015. Standing to his right is Brazilian football legend Roberto Carlos (source – ani)

  The estimated cost of the stadium is pegged to be about Rs. 252 crore, of which Rs. 189 crore would be the cost of the stadium building and the remaining Rs. 63 crore would be for a covered underground parking facility big enough for 750 cars. The capacity of the stadium is expected to be 20,000 across a three-storied stand.

  The size of the field, visitors and corporate boxes and all other facilities and amenities would be as per the standards prescribed by the International Football Association. Currently, Lucknow does not have a full-fledged football ground; the K.D Singh Babu Stadium – predominantly a cricket stadium – is often used for football matches. But this development will gave the game a new identity in the city.

  There is probably no country on earth which has been untouched by the charm of football. Widely known as the ‘beautiful game’, football is by far the most global of sports and its World Cup is easily the most-watched team sporting event.

  Furthermore, the premier European club tournaments are followed passionately even in countries where football is largely treated as a secondary sport. India is no stranger to such footballing frenzy despite the national team’s perennial struggles.

  India are currently placed at the 160th position out of 204 nations in the FIFA rankings – a figure that certainly does not make for good reading. Given its huge population and the constant rise in the poularity of football across both urban and rural areas, it is hard to fathom why India have not been able to build a reasonably competitive football team. The Indian Super League has shown promise in its two years, but will it translate to stronger international displays?

  The traditional football strongholds in the country have been West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and the north-eastern states. Beyond these regions, football does evince interest but quality players are few and far in between. With a view to provide an impetus to the growth of the game in a highly promising market, FIFA has significantly allotted the 2017 Under-17 World Cup to India. This will be the first time that India will be hosting a FIFA event and it remains to be seen how effective it is for the football scene in the country.

  Considering the sporting revolution that the Uttar Pradesh government has pledged to bring about, there is optimism that the proposed stadium will have an impact on changing the footballing landscape of the state. Football is the second most-followed sport in the country and Uttar Pradesh has the most number of people – which augurs well for the game’s development.

  The road ahead may be arduous, but the Lucknow international stadium is clearly a step in the right direction.

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