Indian Football Suffers the Ultimate Embarrassment
HI"Undue interference from third parties": FIFA
It was an independence day ``gift'' India could have done without. Even as the country just finished celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence FIFA the world governing body for football late Monday night at its headquarters in Zurich slapped a ban on the AIFF for ``undue interference from third parties.''
To be candid one could see this coming for on August 5 FIFA had threatened to suspend AIFF and take away its right to hold the Under-17 women's World Cup scheduled for October.
Of course the ban also means that Indian teams cannot take part in international tournaments and there are other repercussions too. According to Article 13 of the FIFA Statutes, the letter sent by the world football governing body general secretary Fatma Samoura states that "AIFF representatives and club teams are therefore no longer entitled to take part in the international competition until the suspension is lifted. Also neither the AIFF nor any of its members or officials may benefit from any development programmes, courses or training from FIFA and/or the AFC."
According to FIFA statutes, member federations must be free from legal and political interference in their respective countries. FIFA has previously suspended other national associations over similar cases. The world body also noted that the transgression constituted a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.
Indian sport has had to endure several embarrassments over the years but this has to be somewhere at the top of the list. For starters this is the first time AIFF has been banned by FIFA in its 85-year history.
Secondly, whatever the standing of Indian football internationally – in the current FIFA rankings it is 104 – it is still a widely popular sport in the country.
Third, the manner in which the ban has come about does not speak well of the way the sport is run in the country. For years there has been talk of nothing being done to nurture talent or promote the sport by self seeking officials who have just preferred to stick to power without any sort of responsibility. The latest in line would appear to be Praful Patel.
The controversial AIFF president violated all principles of good governance for multiple years. Things actually started going from bad to worse when Patel, whose third term in office ended in December 2020 stayed in office despite exceeding the 12-year maximum term permitted to a national sports federation chief under the Sports Code.
A host of officials from state units then approached the Supreme Court demanding intervention. In May this year the SC removed Patel as president and appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators.
Things then moved swiftly. In June a FIFA – AFC delegation set a September 15 deadline for elections. Thereafter the SC stepped in endorsing the need to expedite the elections to the AIFF. About the same time FIFA recommended that the AIFF have 25 percent eminent player representation in its EC as co-opted members.
Early this month the SC approved the COA time-line for AIFF elections, polls to be held on August 28 and the poll process to start on August 13. It also called for elections to be held promptly adding that the elected committee would be an interim body for a period of three months.
With nothing really happening came FIFA's suspension threat early this month even though within a day the COA assured FIFA that it was on course to set things right in the AIFF. But that remained mere words and FIFA's red card for Indian football was only a matter of time.
There was a time when Indian football went through a golden phase but that was long ago. India won the gold medal in the inaugural Asian Games at New Delhi in 1951 and repeated the feat at Jakarta in 1962. At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 India narrowly missed a bronze medal finishing fourth and four years later India performed admirably in the Rome Olympics. Even in the 70s India remained a regional powerhouse in Asia but since then it has been strictly downhill
There have been calls for several years for the AIFF to set its house in order which is the minimum any sports body should do. But it has fiddled even as Indian football hasn't really gone anywhere.
Former Indian player Mehtab Hossain hit the nail on the head while blaming those running football in the country for the FIFA body blow. He is of the view that both the former officials and the COA were squarely to be blamed. ``When FIFA instructed the officials to conduct elections as soon as possible and put the house in order, what were we waiting for? We took our own sweet time and now we have to pay the ultimate price," Mehtab said, adding that neither the officials nor anyone from the COA will suffer. ``It's the players and fans who will be dealt a severe blow,'' he added.
From such a dismal turn of events if something good comes out of it things could still work out for football in India. Bhaichung Bhutia touched upon this point even as he termed the FIFA decision as ``very harsh'' adding that he also saw an opportunity to get the sport in the country in order.
``I feel it is a great chance for us to get our system right. It is very important that all the stakeholders come together and get the system right and everyone works for the betterment of Indian football,'' the Indian star footballer said.
In the meantime urgent moves are afoot to pacify FIFA with the Supreme Court telling the government to take all steps to see that the ban is lifted and the Women's World Cup is held as scheduled. The government has already thrown its weight behind the tournament having signed all the financial and other guarantees required by FIFA.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the government told the apex court that they were trying to break the ice. He said government officials had already met twice with FIFA officials in a bid to resolve the issue. The SC at it the hearing on Wednesday impressed upon the government to take a proactive role in the matter of holding the World Cup and seeing that the ban was lifted.
According to FIFA the suspension could only be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF Executive Committee had been repealed and the AIFF administration regained full control of the AIFF's daily affairs.
FIFA said it is in constant contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and was hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved. Whether that comes about or not Indian football has suffered a body blow from which it may not fully recover.