Sunday, October 2, 2022

Holding sports to ransom

After months of legal battle over the non-holding of elections to India’s top football body, All India Football Federation (AIFF), and intervention by the Supreme Court, which led to Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), impose a ban the AIFF, decks have been cleared after the Supreme Court dissolved its Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run AIFF. The FIFA ban was imposed on August 15 because AIFF was looked after by a Supreme Court appointed committee which was deemed as a third party and not allowed to run a football organization by FIFA The problems arose because the outgoing president and NCP leaders Praful Patel refused to quit despite having served three terms. It is an inglorious period for Indian football when the AIFF went against all principles of the rules by pitching for continuance of NCP leader Praful Patel as the president. Patel has been president since 2009 and has been in office without any elections being held. In December 2020, Praful Patel completed his three four-year terms as the AIFF president and is not eligible to continue as per the federation constitution and the national sports code. Anyway, Patel who was civil aviation minister under UPA was known for having destroyed Air India by giving profitable international routes to his pet airline –Jet Airways. His tenure as AIFF chief was controversial because there was nothing much that the AIFF did. In order to hang on to the chair, Patel on February 5, 2022, announced the formation of a three-member committee to look into the legal aspect of the federation elections of office bearers, which has now been delayed for around 14 months. The excuse was that the AIFF constitution was still a work-in-process. When some of the members sought for elections, the Delhi High Court okayed it and unseated Patel from his chair. When the high court unseated Patel, his group in the AIFF went to the Supreme Court to appeal against the Delhi High Court order. On August 3, the Supreme Court ordered the holding of AIFF elections under the aegis of the CoA on August 28, giving 36 eminent players voting rights. But the FIFA, which was not in favour of individual members forming the electoral college, suspended the AIFF on August 15. FIFA on the other hand, was adamant that, in line with its rules for all countries, only the 36 member bodies could elect the All India Football Federation’s new governing body, while the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators proposed an electoral college of which half (another 36) were eminent former players (nominated, not elected). This was the basis for FIFA to cite “third-party interference” while banning the AIFF. It is reported that AIFF spent close to Rs. 3 crore on settling legal matters but has yet failed to secure anything concrete in more than four years. There are 37 state football associations under AIFF. As per estimates there are an estimated 265 million or 2.65 crore people-men and women-across the world playing football while another staggering 3.5 billion or 350 crore consider themselves football fans. India has around 3 crore people playing the game across various states and its popularity has been overshadowed by cricket. It is time that Indian sports is cleansed of self-servers who seek personal gain at the cost of the nation’s sports and the sooner the system is cleansed the better.