The politics behind FIFA's suspension of All India Football Federation

Why is FIFA using strong-arm tactics to prevent a clean-up of India’s football administration? Why is FIFA opposing the involvement of former footballers in sports administration, asks S.K. Raza

The AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers final round football match between India and Afghanistan at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on June 11, 2022 (Photos: Getty Images)
The AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers final round football match between India and Afghanistan at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on June 11, 2022 (Photos: Getty Images)
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S Khurram Raza

On August 22, the Supreme Court is due to hear a case related to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the body that controls football in the country. The hearing has assumed significance in view of AIFF’s suspension, on August 15-16, by FIFA, the sport’s premier international body, on grounds of “undue interference by a third party”.

The third party in question is a Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), which had recommended that 36 seats (or half the total strength) of the AIFF electoral college go to former players, including the likes of former India captain Baichung Bhutia and Vijayan.

On August 6, FIFA wrote to the Indian sports ministry to clarify that it was not opposed to player representation, but in the interest of the state bodies (who comprise the AIFF general assembly), mandatory player representation should be restricted to 25 per cent of the electoral college. It also issued a note of caution: by upending the current order of things ahead of AIFF elections, due on August 28, India was risking a suspension and related consequences. The CoA had recommended that 36 eminent players join the representatives of 36 state associations to elect the AIFF executive body.

Former and current Indian players are critical of FIFA’s interference with the Supreme Court’s attempts to clean up football administration in the country. FIFA, they say, is siding with vested interests, which control the AIFF, because it does not want to give representation to former players and give them a say in the administration. Former player Satinder Singh Bisht said: “Granted that all good players do not make good administrators, but they do understand the game. Why can’t they be part of the football administration and elect officials?”

Why indeed must politicians control all sports bodies? Praful Patel, former Union minister and NCP leader, was at the helm of AIFF for 12 years and continued for two more years till the Supreme Court ordered him out in May this year. It appointed a three-member CoA to look after the affairs of the AIFF, hold consultations with stakeholders, draft a model Constitution of the AIFF and hold an election. The CoA consists of Anil Dave, former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly.

The Football House, headquarters of the All India Football Federation (AIFF)
The Football House, headquarters of the All India Football Federation (AIFF)

As a result of the suspension, India is at the risk of losing the hosting rights of international tournaments; Indian clubs cannot participate in international tournaments and no international player can be registered to play in India. India is due to host the U-17 Women’s World Cup in October. Gokulam Kerala Women’s FC was to play its first match in the AFC Women’s Club championship in Uzbekistan, on August 23, but cannot unless the suspension is lifted. The team is already in Tashkent. Similarly, ATK Mohun Bagan cannot take the field against an Iranian club, on September 7 in Kolkata, unless the suspension is withdrawn. Both Gokulam Kerala and ATK Mohun Bagan qualified by virtue of winning the domestic league. While the AIFF election is to be held this month, the focus has shifted to the suspension. Will the CoA be forced to withdraw its recommendation? The Supreme Court has not yet modified its earlier order, and Ranjit Bajaj of Delhi FC hopes the election will be held on schedule. The FIFA communication states: “…the lifting of the suspension be subject to the following conditions being satisfied and they are to repeal the CoA mandate in full, AIFF administration to be fully incharge of the AIFF.”

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the counsel of the 36 state associations in court, “You have to decide if you want the tournament in the country… We don’t appreciate the backdoor methods to interfere with the order of the Court”. Back channel talks are on alright to scuttle the proposals of the CoA. What stand the Union sports ministry takes in court will also be revealing. Will it force the Supreme Court to backtrack?

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Published: 20 Aug 2022, 1:00 PM