Asian Cup qualifiers without large crowd irritate Sunil Chhetri

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National football icon, Sunil Chhetri has made no secret of his disappointment at the lack of ticket sales to the general public for the Asian Cup Group D qualifiers to be played at Salt Lake Stadium from 8 to June 14, and felt that this deprived the Indian team of home. advantage at a time when he needs the support of the crowd the most.

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About 20,000 free tickets were issued, which enabled the organizers to obtain free rental of the stadium. The public sale of tickets would have required the Indian Football Federation (AIFF) to shell out around Rs 16 lakh per day.

The Indian team would play in Kolkata, the country’s soccer hub, after a nearly three-year hiatus and Chhetri would have loved the crowds in his corner as he tried to lead India to the continental championship.

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“When Mohun Bagan played at 4 o’clock (in the AFC Cup), there were 38,000 people. How come we have trouble selling tickets (for the 8:30 kick-off) when the team national team plays? The same thing happened in Bombay. If there are no fans for the game, I understand. When the national team plays in the North East, in Kerala, it is crowded. It doesn’t make sense,” the veteran sniper said.

The sparse crowd in the stands will scoff at home advantage, Chhetri said.

Sunil Chhetri (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

“The least I expected was 30,000 because at 4 a.m. they came for Mohun Bagan. We’re happy to host it (the tournament), but (so little turnout) it wouldn’t make a difference. When you come to play (here) for Bengaluru FC against Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, it feels like an away team and it’s intimidating. So they should fill (the stands) and then we can say we have home advantage. If in a stadium with almost 90,000 spectators, only 10,000 to 15,000 people show up, then what’s the point of having home advantage? We go to training, there are 100 people, man! (So) I don’t understand how?

He said Kolkata is one of the places where the national team can expect good support.

“There are a few places in my country where you are going to play for the national team and we know you are going to get support. Kerala is one of them. Of course Kanteerava (in Bengaluru) is one of them. But Kolkata is just up there and you feel special here, because they (the fans) love their football.

Lack of star power

Organizers, on the other hand, cited the lukewarm response to a tournament featuring backwater soccer teams as the reason for fewer crowds. India have a FIFA ranking of 106, ahead of Hong Kong (147), Afghanistan (150) and Cambodia (171).

“Look at the teams playing and their standings. Do you think the fans will invade the stadium? I don’t see more than 10,000 spectators coming,” a former senior AIFF official said.

Salt Lake Stadium has a capacity of over 70,000.

Salt Lake Stadium.

“The government of Bengal has issued instructions that all tickets should be free. You see, printing tickets is not a problem, but how to distribute them, who to distribute them to is a problem. Yes, they (the state government) (us) give the stadium for free and that’s why the tickets (for the matches) must be free. But we are giving away 20,000 tickets, that is not a very small number,” AIFF Director (Competition) Anil Kamath told The Indian Express, informing that the free tickets would go to the football associations of the country. state, to different clubs, to government offices and from there “to the public”. ”. According to him, some tickets would be distributed directly to the public online.

The AIFF is currently governed by the Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Supreme Court, although the tournaments are organized by the Secretariat of the Federation. Bhaskar Ganguly, member of the CoA and former Indian captain, expressed his displeasure. “I told Mr. Kamath that if we had known earlier, we could have taken the matter to the state government. IPL just a few days ago. We could have helped the organizers in that regard. Now it’s probably too late. India are playing at home and deserve the support of the crowd,” Ganguly told this newspaper.

Chhetri admitted that the Indian team’s recent performances left a lot to be desired. “A bit of a negative feeling from the fans that we haven’t been doing well lately. Maybe that’s the reason. The last time we played here against Bangladesh and the result (1-1 ) wasn’t good, the performance wasn’t great. But the support was amazing. We’ll do our best to give them better memories than what we gave them against Bangladesh.

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