After losing out this year, Shillong will be a co-host of the Durand Cup 2024 next year, it was announced today.
The three trophies of the prestigious tournament, now in its 132nd edition, went on display today, first at a formal reveal at the State Convention Centre with army top brass and the Chief Minister present and then at Khyndailad. The tournament is organised by the Indian Army on behalf of the three services.
Although Shillong was named as one of the co-host cities, it was dropped as none of its grounds are suitable. Although the Meghalaya government has been pushing for it, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium’s new natural turf pitch has barely been laid and spectator seating and dressing rooms are not ready. Instead, all the matches will be held in Guwahati, Kokrajhar and Kolkata.
This was a big disappointment to local football fans, especially as Shillong Lajong FC are making their debut at the tournament. All of Lajong’s Group D matches will instead be held in Guwahati.
To make up for the blow, Shillong was today named as a co-host city for next year.
Addressing reporters, Maj Gen Mohit Mahendroo said that Shillong had “definitely been the preferred destination” this year. However, as the Durand Cup is one of the qualifying tournaments for Asian Football Confederation competitions, infrastructure couldn’t be compromised on and has to be of international standard, so the JN Stadium did not meet minimum requirements.
“We put in a lot of effort with the government. But right at the fag end, heavy rains hampered the natural grass from taking root,” Maj Gen Mahendroo said. “Players could suffer injuries. That was the only consideration. We are optimistic and hopeful that Shillong will be one of the venues next year.”
Director of the Sports and Youth Affairs Isawanda Laloo further explained that before the heavy rains of recent weeks there had been a pronounced spell of dry weather and the two coupled together did not let the grass grow.
“We were very hopeful of hosting the Durand Cup this year. But after many inspections, the grass wasn’t growing at the expected rate. It had been seeded in April but then we had an unseasonable drought. Therefore we took a joint decision to defer hosting the tournament,” she said.
Meanwhile, Maj Gen Mahendroo also held out hope for other venues in Meghalaya to play host to the tournament. “For the moment, let’s stabilise in Shillong but as infrastructure develops then we can take it to other parts of the state.”