The beautiful game in India took an ugly turn on August 16, 2022, when Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and cited ‘third party’ intervention as the reason. The official statement of FIFA read:-‘The Bureau of FIFA council has unanimously decided to suspend the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with immediate effect due to undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of FIFA statutes. The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF Executive Committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs”. Those who have closely observed the working of the sports federations and their relationship with the parent international bodies also understands how the “third party” intervention has been often used as the weapon to scuttle reforms in the Indian sports.
FIFA release further says:-‘The suspension means that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, scheduled to take place on 11-30 October, 2022, can’t currently be held in India as planned. FIFA is assessing the next steps with regard to the tournament and will refer the matter to the Bureau of the council if and when necessary. FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved”. FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 was supposed to be another important baby step in popularizing the game in the country. In 2017, India successfully hosted the FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup and proved a point about the huge potential in terms of the growth of the game in the country. Recently, India proved its wherewithal in terms of its organizational capacity in hosting major sports events again, when it successfully organized the chess Olympiad at such a short notice. It brought about innovations, in terms of introducing baton relay in the chess Olympiad to enhance the footprints of the sport in the country. Whereas, the FIFA release makes it clear that there is a silver lining and a channel of communication is open to find a solution in tandem with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, it’s pertinent to understand how the things reached the current stage and who has been responsible for the same?
The Supreme Court of India, on May 18, 2022, relieved NCP leader Praful Patel from the post of AIFF president. Mr. Patel has completed the maximum permitted tenure of 12 years as per the Sports Code. It has to be noted that Mr. Praful Patel took over as the president of AIFF in 2009. He succeeded Congress leader, Priya Ranjan Das Munsi, who was the president from 1988 to 2008. Late Das Munsi had to relinquish office after he unfortunately fell into a coma after suffering a stroke on 12 October, 2012. As there were pending cases in the Apex court regarding its constitution, fresh elections could not be held after Praful Patel completed his third term in December, 2022. After Mr. Patel was relieved from his charge, the apex court appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to manage AIFF. The CoA was asked to draft the constitution for the same body. Dr. SY Qureshi, a CoA member on 29th May, 2022 announced that the new AIFF constitution would be in place by the end of September, 2022. A meeting was held on June, 2022 between CoA and members of affiliated units to discuss the elections at AIFF at the earliest as per the national sports code, FIFA and AFC statutes. After this, on June 21, 2022, a meeting was held between the FIFA team and CoA. On June 23, 2022, FIFA delegation left with the assurance that the new constitution would be completed by July 31 and elections would be held by September end. Things were reasonably under control till then, but started falling apart from there.
A meeting between the CoA and 7 member committee representing the state association of AIFF was held on 6th July, 2022 to discuss the draft constitution. The final draft of the AIFF constitution was submitted to the Supreme Court for approval on 16th July, 2022. Meanwhile, the state associations of AIFF wrote to FIFA that some clauses in the final draft of the constitution were discriminatory and illogical. On July 21, 2022, the Supreme Court asked CoA and state associations to file objections to the proposed constitution. But it was on 26th July, 2022, when it became clear the vested interest did not want to give up their control at any cost. Soon, where was it coming from also got clear? FIFA recommended AIFF should have 25 percent representations from the eminent player in the Executive Committee as co-opted members instead of 50 percent as mentioned in the draft constitution. The letter sent in by FIFA read:-‘Although we agree that a player’s voice needs to be heard, we are also of the view that the importance of the existing members of AIFF should not be undermined. To bring in 50 percent of the members in the structure is not a prudent idea and the AIFF should seek to be more diverse in future”. It’s here where certain tough questions need to be asked.
Firstly, NCP leader Praful Patel and his group have been controlling AIFF for the last 13 years. Before this, Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi controlled the federation for 12 years. In a way, the same group has been controlling Indian football for the last 25 years. Whereas, global football has been revolutionized in the last two and half decades, Indian football has not been able to keep pace. Why has the country lagged in football despite deep footprints and progressed in some of the other sports? Secondly, the old regime has got enough time to run the game. If the new leadership emerges with new ideas, will it not be good for the game in the country? Thirdly, those who have played the game at the highest level, best understand the demands of the modern game. If their representation is increased to 50 percent, will it not infuse fresh energy and ideas in the federation. Who better than the former players to harbinger the process of change in terms of the emergence of the new leadership? After all, the BCCI, the most powerful sports federation in the country, has former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly as the captain. Lastly, is the group led by Praful Patel so hell bent on protecting their self interest that they put the national interest at stake. Can the move to scuttle the opportunity to host the prestigious FIFA U 17 Women’s world cup be justified, when the country is at the cusp of sporting revolution? This gets clearer as we go through the chronology of events from 28th July, 2022 onwards.
The Supreme Court on July 28th set 3rd August as the date of hearing on AIFF elections and mentioned that priority would be hosting the Women’s Under-17 World Cup. Again on August 3, 2022, the apex court of the country asked AIFF to hold and conclude elections to ensure smooth hosting of the Women’s Under 17 World Cup in October, 2022. The court approved a 27 day time frame for the election schedule. It directed AIFF to hold elections to the executive committee by forming an electoral college comprising 36 representatives of state football associations and 36 eminent players. On 6th August, 2022, FIFA threatened the suspension of AIFF and cancelled the rights to host the Women’s U 17 World Cup. It cited third-party influence as the reason. The very next day, on 7th August, 2022, CoA reassured FIFA that the process of setting AIFF in order was on track. More importantly, it slammed the former president Praful Patel for approaching FIFA to suspend the national body. As per the reports, CoA has filed a petition in the apex court accusing Praful Patel of “arranging” a letter from FIFA and AFC and threatening a ban on India. CoA also urged the apex court to ban Patel from “holding any football related post forthwith, including and not limited to positions in FIFA and AFC”. In this context, it should be noted that Patel is a member of the Executive Council of FIFA and Vice President at AFC.
If India wants to emerge as the genuine global sports power, it has to excel in the most popular sports. The sport has got a history and legacy in the country. It has got a huge potential which waits to be tapped. This requires the emergence of new leadership which can execute fresh ideas and practices. The present episode has underlined the fact that there is no place for those putting self interest over the national interest if Indian football has to excel at the global level.