FIFA, the international governing body of football, has cited pollution for not allowing any matches in the national capital for the 2020 edition of U-17 Women's World Cup. The World Cup is taking place in India from 2nd November - 21st November 2020.
In a watershed moment for women sports in India, this Women's World Cup also marks the first time an Indian women's team will be a part of FIFA World Cup.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Aneesha Labroo, Founder, Kica Women's Football League said: "How can we expect professional athletes to be playing in a polluted city like Delhi when it is so detrimental to their health,. It definitely sends a bad message to the youth of our city and our players. Delhi is a city that has so many outdoor spaces but we just don't get the opportunity to use them. The government really needs to prioritise this and needs to start doing something about it because we all have the right to breathe fresh air."
With' Kick Off The Dream' as the official slogan, the motive is to boost the growth of women's football in India.
The 20-day tournament, starting on 2 November, will be played in Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati, Kolkata and Navi Mumbai. The 16-team tournament will witness 24 group stage matches and 8 knockout fixtures. The finals will be held at DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
"Delhi hosted the U-17 World Cup in 2017. We did consider a lot of factors. For example, pollution was one of the things we considered because of the health and safety of the teams and the players. So, we looked at other cities for that reason. Also, we focused on Kolkata, and Mumbai, which is the capital of football in India, where football is very popular. We had to make tough decisions. With Delhi hosting in 2017, we decided to go with two new cities," FIFA Head of Youth Tournaments Roberto Grassi said.
All the five venues for the women's tournament were checked in November-December for their suitability to host the event.
It's time for the girls! The match schedule for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup India 2020 is out. Guwahati to kick off the tournament on the 2nd November and Navi Mumbai will host the finals for this year's edition. #U17WWC pic.twitter.com/ZSJf7NwXEy— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) February 18, 2020
"Usually we go with four (cities) traditionally, lately we have been also reducing the venues. If you take the last edition of the U-17 Women's World Cup, we had three stadiums in Uruguay. Whenever we evaluate a tournament, we look at the size of the country and the development needed. In India, even if we wanted to go small, we couldn't. So we had to do something different and we came up with this solution," Grassi said.
The FIFA delegation also visited Goa but did not name it as a host.
"First of all, we looked at the sporting facilities and infrastructure available. We looked at the commitment from the stakeholders in all the cities. Then we had to make some thoughts around the connectivity between cities, look at places where football is already popular because one of the goals of the event is to maximise attendance, to be inclusive to have as many people (attending) as possible and participating in the tournament," Grassi added.
Group-stage matches will be played in four cities (Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati and Kolkata), with the knockout stages also in Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata and Navi Mumbai.
As the newly formed Delhi Government focuses on air pollution and climate crisis, this issue demands an urgent response of the government for all the women players.
"Sports, among many other things in the city, is going to suffer terribly if the air pollution crisis continues unchecked. FIFA rejecting Delhi as a host city for the U17 women's world cup, citing air pollution as one of the reasons is really a slap in the fact for the capital city. I'm glad the current Delhi government has prioritised clean air but now we need to urgently start seeing action on the ground, and this includes citizens also doing their bit.", Mallika Arya, a football player said.
"It's unfortunate because this would have been a perfect opportunity for girls to see what is the progression of their passion when you're playing football in school, to then watch a match and experience something at a global level would be such an inspirational thing," Richard Paiva (Founder, The Art of Sport) said.
Kick-Off The Dream will inspire both men and women to pursue their dreams and promote a new era of growth for women's football in the country and around the world.