India has given away 27,000 tickets to the opening game of the FIFA under 17 World Cup against the United States, an official told Times of India. This year marks India’s first attempt at hosting a FIFA tournament, but sales have been poor for a number of reasons, and now the organizers are scrambling to fill the unsold seats in 56,000-capacity Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.

Appearance is especially important to the committee given the attendance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Upon hearing about the ticket sales crisis, the Government of India and the FIFA Local Organising Committee decided to take matters into their own hands.

“The LOC has already distributed 27,000 tickets in 500 schools around Delhi and NCR. We will provide them with to-and-fro transport too. We are providing an opportunity to the schoolchildren to see their heroes in live action,” an LOC spokesperson told TOI on Thursday.

Ticket sales have been badly affected in the days leading up to the event, which kicks off today and runs until October 28. On Wednesday, Greenpeace released a statement warning fans that India’s “dangerous levels of air pollution” poses a “serious health risk” to players and spectators during the tournament, according to World Soccer Talk. Greenpeace says all six cities planning to host matches share pollution problems, but cite New Delhi as the worst. “Air pollution levels during the Indian tournament could be significantly worse than during the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” the report warned.

The last match played in India is set for the 16th, right before pollution is sure to pick up due to India’s Diwali Festival, celebrated with huge amounts of fireworks. Media reports say this scheduling was deliberate, and India’s Supreme Court has ordered authorities enforce precautionary  measures such as pulling some cars off roads and closing polluting industries. World Cup organizers did not comment on the Greenpeace report.

Some also speculate that heat and humidity may account for the low turnout, as well as the fact that FIFA has not yet released tickets to the host association, All India Football Federation.

Last Updated on October 6, 2017