New Delhi: The all India football saga, and the subsequent ban by global body FIFA, appears a lot like Shakespearean theatre. It has power, greed, rebellion, treachery, and tragedy. The most damaging residue of this saga is the dent on Brand India’s image, coupled with the imminent ban by FIFA and a question mark on conducting global sporting activities in India. Now that the FC Gokulam girls are sent packing from Tashkent, the damage digs deeper and the plot gets thicker.
The problem began when the prominent Union Minister during the UPA regime, Praful Patel was elected as All India Football Federation (AIFF) chief in 2009 and it snowballed after his stipulated time at the office came to an end. According to the sports code, Patel’s term expired in 2020. As Patel completed his permissible three terms of 12 years, AIFF was bound to go for fresh elections. However, the polls could not go on as per schedule due to delays and his greed for presiding over the U-17 World Cup in India and securing the official red carpet at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The Supreme Court jumped in and asked AIFF to align in sync with the national sports code.
Patel’s regime was marked with a sharp decline in international friendlies. Inept administration and depleting government grants. Evidently, AIFF’s grants declined from Rs 30 crore for
the financial year 2019-20 to Rs 10 crore in 2020-21. In addition, three serious allegations were levelled at Patel. A) He was in contempt of the Supreme Court and allegedly voted against India in the FIFA. B) Patel conspired with state association officials to get the FIFA ban imposed on India. C) Earlier broadcasters used to pay money to broadcast Indian players but with Patel coming that was completely stopped and India matches abroad were not aired live. Fans for the last five years had to rely on social media streams for the live telecast of their national team.
To arrest the downfall, cases were filed, charges were levelled and the courts had to intervene. On May 18, the Supreme Court of India relieved Praful Patel and his executive committee of their responsibilities and appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) led by Justice Anil Dave (former Judge, Supreme Court of India), Dr S.Y. Qureshi (former Chief Election Commissioner), and Mr Bhaskar Ganguli (former Indian football captain).
In the next two weeks, the first meeting of the CoA was successfully conducted to gauge the problems and provide instant solutions.
A decision was made to appoint a 12-member advisory committee to oversee the day-to-day matters of the AIFF’s various departments.
The FIFA-AFC and the CoA met on June 23 where it was decided to complete the new Constitution by July 31 and the election by the end of September.
On July 16, the three-member Committee of Administrators submitted the final draft Constitution of the AIFF to the Supreme Court for its approval. But then horror struck as AIFF’s state units expressed unhappiness with several provisions in the draft Constitution. But still, they were ready to “find a middle way” to avoid a FIFA ban on Indian football.
On July 26, the FIFA recommended to the AIFF to absorb 25% eminent player representation in its executive committee as co-opted members instead of the 50% recommended in the final draft Constitution by CoA.
According to the schedule, the election results would be declared on August 28/29, 2022. The Supreme Court directed the holding of elections to the executive committee of the AIFF by forming an Electoral College made up of 36 representatives of state football associations and 36 eminent former football players.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
* August 6, 2022
FIFA threatens to suspend the AIFF and strip its rights to host the Women’s U-17 World Cup in October due to third-party “influence.”
* August 7, 2022
The CoA reassured FIFA after the threat that it was on course to set the AIFF in order while slamming its ousted president Praful Patel for his references to the suspension of the national body.
* August 10, 2022
The CoA moved the Supreme Court seeking a contempt of court against the body’s former president, Praful Patel and several office bearers of the state football associations for “interfering with the administration of justice” while accusing them of attempting to defeat the purpose of the Supreme Court’s supervision of the football federation through the Committee of Administrators.
* August 15, 2022
FIFA informed the Indian sports ministry that it remained firm in its opposition to individual member’s inclusion in the Electoral College for the upcoming AIFF elections.
* August 16, 2022
FIFA officially suspended AIFF, meaning the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, scheduled to take place on 11-30 October 2022, cannot currently be held in the country as planned.
The nomination process for the AIFF election’s top post has been filled, with top names throwing in their hat. Legendary ex-Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia, former players Kalyan Chaubey, Eugeneson Lyngdoh have filed their nomination for the post of president. Also in the fray would be Ajit Banerjee, brother of Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; N.A. Haris, Karnataka Assembly MLA; Manvendra Singh, son of former defence minister Jaswant Singh; and Shaji Prabhakaran, president of Delhi FA. The only female candidate for the post of president is Valanka Alemao, daughter of former Goa Chief Minister Churchill Alemao.
Lyngdoh, a former player and Bhaichung’s teammate, is an MLA from Meghalaya.
While it looks like a delicate battle on the cards, speculation is that it will boil down eventually between Bhaichung and Kalyan Chaubey. But a clear picture will emerge on Bhaichung’s fate after Monday’s Supreme Court hearing. The FIFA currently does not allow the presence of eminent players in the electoral college and this has been one of the major roadblocks for the AIFF in getting the draft Constitution ratified by the FIFA. This is also one of the reasons why the FIFA has banned the AIFF. So, a lot would also depend on the Supreme Court hearing and the FIFA’s discussion with the Sports Ministry and AIFF.
Despite Bhutia being allowed to contest the election, it is Kalyan Chaubey who is the frontrunner for the top post. He is a member of BJP and his name has been proposed by Gujrat FA and seconded by Arunachal Football. While Gujarat is known as the power centre of Indian politics, Arunachal is home of the former Sports Minister and Current Minister of Law and Justice, Government of India.
With things really spicing up and Indian football moving towards a constructive road, it remains to be seen what happens on August 22, with that day going down as the biggest day in the history of Indian football.