The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi is home to Kerala Blasters, the club with the biggest fan base in the Indian Super League. Every time a match comes around here, men, women and children, almost all their yellow colours, jostle their way to the oval. Inside, the stadium is packed, almost to the brim.
While the ambience is amazing, the Kochi stadium is a recipe for disaster, feels the Asian Football Confederation general secretary Datuk Seri Windsor John who had a close look at the ground during the recent ISL opener here. The Kerala Football Association had hoped to host a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Kochi later this year but now that has been pushed away.
“When I saw the match the other day, there were so many families there...children and women which is very good for football but is a recipe for disaster,” said Windsor John, in a chat with The Hindu on the sidelines of the KFA’s Kerala Youth Development Project’s launch on Saturday evening.
“These things have happened before, in Indonesia one year ago, so we cannot let our guard down and repeat the problem...then disaster for everyone. That I think is the biggest concern for the (Indian federation) AIFF and I have conveyed my concerns as well.”
In October 2022, more than 125 people, including many children, were killed after thousands of fans rushed on to the ground after their home team lost a match at Malang in Indonesia. Police responded by firing tear gas and in the bid to escape people were trampled and crushed at the exits.
The AFC official felt the location of the Kochi Stadium, ISL’s favourite football ground which is virtually in the heart of the city at Kaloor, was an issue.
“The lack of infrastructure which includes the security infrastructure, segregation of fans, officials, players...unfortunately the position, the location of the stadium does not allow these to happen,” said John.
“You’re just getting out of the Metro (rail) and you’re at the stadium. So, everybody is coming, so what is the safety plan?
“Of course, the stadium itself is a little bit old, needs refurbishment...dressing rooms, VIP area and all those things because when we play internationals, top teams would expect a level of facilities to be there.”
He felt that Kerala should go for a football-only stadium (the Nehru Stadium is a multi-purpose venue).
“Because when you build a new stadium then you can take all these regulations and put them into the new one. Remodelling the current stadium, you can only do so much because your location is in the central so you always have the safety and security issues which now in football forms the No. 1 priority,” he said.
“On the other side, it will be great if you have a stadium that fulfils because your fan is ready-made here. You already have the passion; you don’t have to promote the match here. You probably will not have enough tickets. On the other side, everything is ready, but some boxes need to tick and unfortunately, those are important boxes.”
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