New Delhi: The future of Indian football is hanging in the balance as the sport’s governing body, FIFA, has warned the All India Football Federation (AIFF) of a possible suspension and loss of rights to host the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup over “deviations” in a roadmap drawn up to resolve governance issues.
Dated 5 August, the letter highlighted that the AIFF is required to ensure that there’s no influence by “any third parties”. The missive came two days after the Supreme Court ordered AIFF elections at the earliest for the U-17 Women’s World Cup and a reform of the federation’s electoral college.
Both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have flagged their concerns regarding potentially “serious deviations” from the roadmap that the three federations had agreed in 2019 for the development of Indian football over the next decade. The two apex bodies have sought from the AIFF a transcript of the court’s decision by 9 August to examine the “deviations”.
“…Should there exist serious deviations to the aforesaid roadmap, we would submit the matter to our relevant decision-making body for further considerations and possible decisions based on FIFA Statutes,” the letter read.
These statute-based responses could include the AIFF’s suspension from international football and the stripping of India’s rights to host the U-17 Women’s World Cup in October, it added.
ThePrint has a copy of the letter marked to AIFF acting general secretary Sunando Dhar.
In its decision on the plea by lawyer Rahul Mehra, the Supreme Court had not only ordered that AIFF elections be held expeditiously, but also a reform of the federation’s electoral college to include 24 male and 12 female former international-level footballers, alongside representatives of the existing state associations.
Mehra shared the news of the court’s order on Twitter, and expressed hopes that similar reforms would be implemented in governance across sports from top to bottom.
Yesterdays interim order passed by SC wherein it directed All India Football Federation (AIFF) to hold elections has just been uploaded. Take a look👇
— Rahul Mehra (@TheRahulMehra) August 5, 2022
SC took action earlier
This latest decision by the Supreme Court came nearly three months after it ordered AIFF president Praful Patel and the federation’s executive committee to be stripped of their administrative responsibilities.
In June, the Supreme Court had ordered that Patel and the executive committee be replaced by a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), with Justice Justice D.Y. Chandrachud calling the state of affairs “not in the interest of the proper governance of the federation”.
The central point of contention was Patel himself, the outgoing AIFF president, who was elected in 2009, won re-elections in 2012 and 2016, and went on to become a FIFA council member.
Patel, who had completed three terms as president in December 2020 — the maximum allowed under the National Sports Code — had kept AIFF elections pending for 18 months. After his exit in May following the top court’s intervention, Patel had said that the elections shouldn’t be dragged out, and warned against underestimating “FIFA’s strength to take radical decisions”.
In a response to FIFA and the AFC on 6 August, the court-appointed CoA — consisting of retired SC judge Anil Dave, former India football captain Bhaskar Ganguly, and former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi — assured the federations that the “interests of Indian football are being well served”.
It further asserted that a new executive committee would be “in place” by 1 September, according to a report by The Times of India. This committee will function independently and not be supervised by the court-appointed administrators, the letter added.
“Indian football has a small group of detractors who seek to serve themselves at the cost of the sport and its players who are dear to all of us. We have faced instances in the past when some of these have sought to mislead institutions and to undermine the proper functioning of the AIFF,” the CoA added.
Meanwhile, Mehra, the petitioner in the court case, was critical of the ousted AIFF officials and other individuals in his reaction to FIFA-AFC’s joint letter. They “are trying to coax FIFA into banning AIFF” and “trying to ensure the electoral college remains the same with handpicked players subservient” to their interests, he told ThePrint.
“Where is the bar if you don’t conform to the Supreme Court orders? Are these so-called ‘patriots’ anti-national or do they want to support the game?” Mehra asked.
The row over Patel’s continuity in office had been preceded by years of tussle over supremacy between the I-League and the Mukesh Ambani-backed Indian Super League. This eventually led to the Indian football roadmap mentioned above, which was approved by an AFC executive committee in 2019.
This article has been re-edited.
(Edited by Tony Rai)