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Did you know that Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata is the second largest, non-auto racing, multi-purpose arena in the world?

It’s the only stadium in India where international football greats like Pele, Roger Milla, Gerd Mueller, Diego Forlan, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi have played. Also, teams like Argentina, Venezuela, Bayern Munich, Brazil Masters and Cosmos N.Y. The Salt Lake Stadium, officially known as the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, is truly a gem of an arena. And where else can it be located if not in Kolkata, the home of Indian football. The soccer-crazy city that also boasts of the country’s top football clubs — Mohun Bagan, Kingfisher East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting Club and Prayag United.

The second largest, non-auto racing, multi-purpose stadium in the world, the 30-year-old stadium can hold as many as 1.2 lakh spectators in a three-tier configuration. But this is going to change soon as the stadium is set to undergo largescale renovation ahead of the under-17 Fifa World Cup 2017, where its capacity will be reduced to 80,000.

With the number of seats going down, the Estadio Azteca stadium in Mexico City will now become the largest and Salt Lake stadium will slide way below the 10th position. But then, the idea is to introduce bucket seats which will be far more comfortable than the present stands and also bring the stadium in line with the international standards of football stadia.

Now for some technical data: the stadium, which was inaugurated in January 1984, covers an area of 76.40 acres. It has a main football arena measuring 105m x 70m as well as a unique synthetic track for athletic meets. Besides, there are also practice grounds for football, cricket, kho kho and volleyball. Then there’s an electronic scoreboard, peripheral floodlighting arrangement from the rooftop, VIP enclosures, air conditioned conference hall, gymnasium, dormitories and separate rooms, player's changing rooms as well as press boxes and commentary boxes along with several platforms for TV cameras.

The floodlights which illuminate the stadium consist of 624 bulbs of 2 kW each and two electronic scoreboards consisting of 36,001 bulbs of 25 watt each. The four underground reservoirs have unique fire-fighting arrangements with a capacity of 10,000 gallons.

The architectural and structural design was the work of joint consultants Ballardie, Thompson & Matthews and M/S H.K. Sen & Associates, both from Kolkata. The track was prepared by Reckortan Tartan Track, Germany, and electronic scoreboards were by Electro Impex of Hungary.

Apart from football and athletics, the stadium also hosts cultural programmes including music and dance concerts. There is also climbing wall at the northern side of the stadium that is maintained by the West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation.

It may not be out of place to mention that the first makeover of the stadium must count as one of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s biggest achievements as it happened within 100 days of assuming power. Under the earlier regime, the stadium had become more a platform for mega political rallies than a ground for football and athletics. Now, with the stadium getting further modernised and with big ticket events like under-17 Fifa World Cup taking place, there can only be good times ahead for this sporting venue.

(GM Kapur is convener of the West Bengal chapter of Intach)

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