New Delhi: Facing the prospect of a suspension and the loss of rights to host the upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup, the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) committee of administrators (COA) has written to assure the sport’s governing body, FIFA, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), that the “interests of Indian football are being well served” — and lambasted ousted AIFF president Praful Patel.
In a letter dated 5 August, accessed by ThePrint, FIFA and the AFC had warned the AIFF about ‘deviations’ in the roadmap drawn to resolve governance issues.
The international federations highlighted that member associations like the AIFF are statutorily obliged to ensure there was no influence by “any third parties”. The missive came two days after the Supreme Court ordered AIFF elections at the earliest to oversee the smooth functioning the U-17 Women’s World Cup, and a reform of the federation’s electoral college.
Both FIFA and the AFC flagged their concerns regarding potentially “serious deviations” from the roadmap the three federations had agreed on in 2019 for the development of Indian football over the next decade. The two 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.
The 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, the letter added.
In its response to FIFA and the AFC, the CoA said that the international federations had been misled by certain parties and that a new executive committee would be “in place” by 1 September, according to a report by The Times of India.
“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.
In its decision on the plea by lawyer Rahul Mehra, the Supreme Court had not only ordered expeditious conducting of AIFF elections, 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.
On his Twitter account, Mehra had shared the news of the apex court’s order 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 came nearly three months after the Supreme Court ordered AIFF president Patel and the federation’s executive committee to be stripped of their administrative responsibilities.
In June, the court had ordered Patel and company 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 point of contention was centred on outgoing AIFF president Patel, who was elected in 2009 and won re-elections in 2012 and 2016, and went on to become a FIFA council member.
Patel, who had completed the maximum three-term limit in December 2020 as mandated by the National Sports Code, had kept AIFF elections pending for 18 months. Following his exit in May after the top court’s intervention, Patel had said the elections should not be dragged out, and “not underestimate FIFA’s strength to take radical decisions”.
After his removal, Patel wrote to FIFA with an “update” on the Supreme Court order, and requested the federation not to suspend the AIFF. However, the COA in its letter has slammed Patel for his references to suspension, saying he had intimated that “suspension is a likelihood as FIFA-AFC would treat the Court’s intervention as a third party involvement”.
Speaking to ThePrint, Mehra, the petitioner in the court case, was critical of the ousted AIFF officials and other individuals in his reaction to the FIFA-AFC 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 continuing in office had been preceded by years of tussle over supremacy between the I-League and the Mukesh Ambani-backed Indian Super League, which resulted in the aforementioned Indian football roadmap, approved by an AFC executive committee in 2019.
(Edited by Tony Rai)