Guwahati as a "Sports Capital" - A Distant Dream
“Guwahati will emerge as the sporting capital of the Northeast.” It was the final day (February 16) of the South Asian Games, 2016 and Sarbananda Sonowal, the then Union Sports Minister (independent-charge), now incumbent Chief Minister of Assam, promised during the curtain call at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Complex at Sarusajai.
The Games was later credited for reviving the eight year drought of major sporting events in Guwahati since the National Games in 2007 and for propelling the city to its current position of hosting two major international sporting events – nine matches of FIFA Under-17 World Cup from October 8 to 25 and the second T20 match between India and Australia.
The city today boasts of having a world class football stadium, indoor stadium and swimming pools of international standards at Sarusajai sports complex, a world class cricket stadium at Barsapara, and a synthetic-turf hockey stadium capable of hosting international matches. It is, however, the laggings in management and not the infrastructure that has irked the sports fans during almost all the matches.
World class stadium, flawed management
For Guwahatians, the India-Australia T20 match was a payback time for the Indian team which was, in its last encounter at Nehru Stadium in 2009, handed a humiliating defeat and cricket fans from the entire northeast had flocked to witness it. Besides, the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) Stadium at Barsapara, was hosting its first international match.
But much to the disappointment of the cricket fans who had high hopes from ACA, the managing association, not everything went well on the big day despite months of tall claims of being well prepared. Mismanagement of the long queues outside the stadium and chaos at the galleries irked many spectators. More than India’s defeat in the match, spectators seemed more rattled by the mismanagement.
A spectator, Chiranjit Hazarika said, "There were no volunteers manning the queues which were as long as 500-700 meters. The queues got bifurcated at places and led to a lot of confusion. In front of the gates (there were six gates into the venue), there were practically no queues and people just jostled in. The security personnel were there at the gates but the queues essentially were left unmanned, unorganised.”
"I have seen a lot of cricket matches at Wankhede Stadium, but never have I seen people crowding this way. It is a world class stadium but it isn't properly accessible by such a massive crowd due to which a lot of people had to suffer,” Pancham Chanda, another cricket fan said.
There were also reports on the disappointment of the audience who had spent handsome amounts of money on the corporate box tickets. A corporate box spectator (name withheld) said, “Purchasing the box at such a high price was wastage of money. The boxes were air conditioned and vapour accumulated on the outside due to the difference of temperature. Due to this, it was extremely difficult to watch the match.”
The ACA had auctioned 20 corporate boxes each having 34 seats at a base bidding price of Rs 5.25 lakhs.
Spectators also complained about the traffic and parking arrangements at the Barsapara Stadium, and blamed the authorities for lack of personnel and mismanagement.
“Although I personally didn’t face much problem, my cousin went through a lot of trouble in parking his car. Firstly, he had to park the car very far from the stadium and on top of that, the local shopkeepers were asking for Rs 200-300 as parking fees to park in front of their shops. In some places, he was also asked to leave his car keys with the shopkeepers. He refused,” remarked a citizen.
“There were no designated parking lots as mentioned in the road maps. Everything was haphazard. I had to park my vehicle really far from the venue and had to walk for around one and a half hours to reach the stadium,” said another.
When contacted, the ACA vice president said, “There still are a lot of areas to improve. We have noted those and will overcome the shortcomings eventually. However, there are many positive sides of the match and those need to be highlighted too.”
The stone that shook the nation
The final blow on the already ruined night was however the incident in which a stone was allegedly hurled at the Australia team’s bus on its return to Hotel Radisson Blu after the match, shattering a window.
The issue was first brought to notice by Australian cricketer Aaron Finch through a tweet: "Pretty scary having a rock thrown through the team bus window on the way back to the hotel!!" He also put up an image of a broken window pane of the bus.
Eventually, a case was registered at Gorchuk police station under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 427 (mischief causing damage) and 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the IPC and two persons - Pabitra Khetriya, 18 and Rakesh Hazowari, 25 - were arrested for allegedly being involved in the incident.
The duo was remanded 14 days’ judicial custody.
The incident brought shame to the city as expressed by people on social media and despite several counter-measures ranging from the Commissioner of Police ordering a high-level enquiry and ACA condemning the “freak incident”, the chances of Guwahati hosting another international match any time soon looks rather slim.
Senior member of BCCI, Naba Bhattacharjee, when asked, told G Plus, “The entire incident has been summarised to the BCCI Committee of Administrators and ACA is not to be blamed for the incident. They have also been informed that two persons have been arrested. The BCCI is convinced but the future of Guwahati in terms of hosting other such matches is still unclear.”
Well managed, but no crowd
Meanwhile, the Local Organising Committee of FIFA Under-17 World Cup was lauded for its management but pictures reveal that the galleries remain mostly empty.
The tickets for the matches in the four phases sold out faster than the other six venues, but when the matches are held, most of the seats are empty.
“We could not book tickets as those got sold out as soon as they came online. But, there are so many empty seats. I now think that the tickets went to the black market,” Arun Sharma, a student said.
Rajat Singh, who witnessed the match on October 8 said, “I went through a lot of trouble to collect the tickets. I could not purchase them online and then when a friend of mine had to go out of station on the match day, I collected from him. But on reaching the stadium, we saw that it was mostly empty. We boast of coming from a place where football is like religion but this kind of turnaround is very discouraging.”
The LOC of FIFA, when asked, said, “There are contractual obligations with the hosting association, participating teams, the 13 commercial partners of the tournament, the host broadcaster, the signatories of the host city, stadium and training site agreements and other stakeholders with which there are contracts with regard to the tournament, to provide tickets. All the tickets that have been put up for sale are the maximum number of tickets that can be sold at each venue discounting these obligations. These empty seats are probably the tickets discounted under our contractual obligations.”