I am still not done with Indian football, Baichung Bhutia promises
The icon hits back at current president Kalyan Chaubey in the AIFF conclave
It’s been after almost one and-a-half years since he suffered a resounding defeat in the presidential elections of All India Football Federation (AIFF), that Baichung Bhutia has spoken. Soon after attending the executive committee meeting last Tuesday, the Indian football icon demanded the resignation of current president Kalyan Chaubey – and his words had an immediate impact in football fraternity of the country.
Much like his famous sense of opportunism inside the penalty box, the 47-year-old footballer-politician’s timing has been pitch perfect. After raising an air of optimism last year, Indian football seem to be back to square one after drawing a blank in the AFC Asian Cup as well as the Hangzhou Asian Games – while the unceremonious sacking of the erstwhile general secretary Shaji Prabhakaran reflected a divided house in the federation.
‘’I maintain what I said at the meeting at the other day that Chaubey and treasurer Kipa Ajay should also resign rather than just getting rid of Prabhakaran. What is this talk of mistrust when ahead of the 2022 elections, they were all together in the fight against the previous regime,’’ Bhutia said.
Prabhakaran, the high profile secretary general, was sacked on November 7 – barely two months after the Chaubey regime completed their first year in office with fanfare. The Delhi High Court ordered an interim stay on his sacking on 8 December and in their last order on 19 January, it noted that he was sacked by the AIFF’s emergency committee, whereas only the executive committee held the power to sack the general secretary – a protocol which was completed in 30 January meeting with Prabhakaran virtually present.
Speaking to the National Herald in an exclusive interview from Sikkim, where he is now preparing for the Sikkim Assembly elections in a few months’ time (Bhutia’s Hamro Sikkim Party is now merged with the long serving Pawan Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front), Bhutia dropped enough hints that he is still not done with his aspirations in football administration.
‘’I can assure you that I will be staying in football for a long, long time. Right now, I am busy with the elections but I feel that I can give back something to the game which has made me what I am today,’’ said Bhutia, the country’s biggest ambassador in football before Sunil Chhetri took over.
His dig at Chaubey, who became the first former international footballer to assume the hot seat in AIFF in 2022, was understandable when he said: ‘’Not all sportspersons make good administrators, while neither all politicians make good administrators.’’
Bhutia also highlighted the ‘lack of transparency’ in financial dealings of the federation – raising the subject of state grants as well as the decision to shift the Santosh Trophy to Saudi Arabia. ‘’Each state association is now getting Rs 24 lakh from the federation, but is there any accountability about how the funds are being utilised? The states have a major role in developing talents at the grassroots level if the game has to propser,’’ he said.
The decision to host the Santosh Trophy to Saudi, according to Bhutia, was a ludicruous one. ‘’How can you justify such a move when it’s a tournament which has historically thrived on support base of the states. The original deal was apparently to host it for three years in Saudi after the first year, it was held in Arunachal Pradesh,’’ Bhutia pointed out.
Asked whether it’s time to replace head coach Igor Stimac to bring about a change of fortunes for the Indian team, Bhutia said there was no point in making a scapegoat of Stimac. ‘’The AFC Asian Cup was the most important tournament for us, more so since we qualified for back-to-back editions for the first time. However, we didn’t give it enough priority and there was inadequate training time for the team,’’ Bhutia signed off.