Amid the concerns caused by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese Taipei on Thursday became the first team to arrive here for the AFC Women's Asian Cup, even as the Indian contingent's flight from Kochi got delayed. The delay in their flight from Kochi, the Indian team's base since its return from the tournament-cum-exposure tour of Brazil, has led to the postponement of the host nation's scheduled media session on Thursday evening.
The Indian team has been drawn against Iran (January 20), Chinese Taipei (January 23) and China (January 26) in Group A of the competition that consists of 12 teams. India is hosting the continent's highest competition for the first time since 1980 and at stake is a possible berth in the 2023 FIFA World Cup.
One of the venues hosting matches is the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi on the outskirts of Pune city. It has hosted a plethora of international events in the past including the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008. Built in the 1990s, the Balewadi sports complex, as it is popularly known in sporting circles, had hosted the National Games too. Be it tennis, rugby, football, boxing, athletics or basketball, the picturesque sports complex has witnessed many memorable sporting events.
From the 2008 CWG Youth Games, when the facilities at the stadium saw a revamp, till February 2020, the complex has hosted 36 international tournaments. The most prominent among them is the Maharashtra Open ATP 250 WTA tennis tournament, where 50 international players participated. In 2019, the ATP tennis tournament was hosted here and again this year the tennis courts are gearing up to host the marquee event. In 2017, the stadium had hosted Davis Cup matches.
Coming to football, the stadium is set to host Asia's marquee event, and the Group C matches would be played at the venue. Earlier, it has hosted the Federation Cup International Football tournament in 2010 and in 2011, they hosted the Pre-Olympic football qualifier. The pitch at the venue has been significantly upgraded to support modern football. Also new flood lights with LED panels have been installed at the stadium, which would save power to a large extent, a senior state government official said.
New training facilities were reconstructed for the tournament. Two additional practice pitches have also been constructed to cater to the teams and apart from that the team dressing rooms, hospitality areas and the media tribune have also been upgraded. The old lights have been shifted to one of the practice pitches while LED lights are being installed at the other practice pitch. Some of the other prominent tournaments that the complex has hosted include Asian Junior Basketball tournament in 2009, World Junior Badminton Championship in 2008, Asian kick-boxing championship. The complex has also hosted the Khelo India Games.