The abrupt and unforeseen ban on All India Football Federation (AIFF) enforced by FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association or the International Federation of Association Football) has left the entire country in a state of sheer dismay, and the football fans indisputably enraged. Following the recent removal of the (former) AIFF president Praful Patel and the dismissal of the general body led by him, the Supreme Court appointed a Committee of Administrators to handle the general affairs of AIFF in the meanwhile. The aforementioned suspension has been placed due to the foul interference of a third party, targeting the involvement of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) in handling the affairs of AIFF. The three-member CoA had been given the responsibility of drafting the new constitution and organizing free and fair elections in collaboration with state federations and Indian football clubs, after which the country was suddenly struck by the ban.
This article will further discuss this ban and its underlying aspects.
Praful Patel’s removal from presidency
The unfolding of multiple significant events took place after Patel’s removal. But why did Praful Patel have to be removed despite the said ‘smooth functioning’ of AIFF under his leadership? The National Sports (Development) Code of India was re-drafted in the year 2017, changing the tenure limit for the sports administrators from 20 years to 12 years. This development was opposed by many but it remains to be a part of the National Sports Code till date. Patel’s role in AIFF began in the year 2009, which would make 2021 the year his presidency ended. The illegal continuation of his administration (into the year 2022) urged Ranjit Bajaj, the head of the football Club Minerva Punjab, to file a case against him. Following which the Supreme Court brought an end to Patel’s illicit presidency. Now whether this was a genuine attempt by Bajaj at maintaining the sanctity of the National Sports Code or his scheme to gain power (since the CoA then formed an important advisory committee headed by Bajaj) will perhaps always continue to be unclear.
Initially, immediately after its formation, the CoA was handed the responsibility of something as salient as the re-construction of the constitution, which allows us to comprehend the fact that the international body did not only acknowledge the presence of the CoA but was on-board with the Supreme Court’s decision to a required extent. In fact, on June 23 and 24, 2022, representatives of FIFA and the Asian Football Council (AFC) travelled to India to examine if the elections and the redrafting of the AIFF constitution were in accordance with the Supreme Court directives. They discovered nothing deficient and gave them the greenlight. In conjunction with the reassuring visit by FIFA and AFC, the CoA was ostensibly in conversation with these international bodies as mentioned in the statement released by the CoA soon after the suspension. Because there were originally no complications in the existence and involvement of CoA in AIFF, more questions were raised when this ban interrupted the smooth sailing of the administration. The agitated public found a quarry to channel their anger towards when it was revealed that the prior president Patel had written to FIFA immediately after his expulsion, suggesting that CoA’s participation in maneuvering AIFF’s activities can be regarded as ‘undue involvement of a third party’. Further speculations developed by sports fans all over the country currently suggest that this ban is a mere consequence of Patel’s selfish and contemptible display of retaliation against the end of his presidency. However, whether this is the entire truth of the matter or if the outraged fanatics are forgetting to see reason this time, is something that is up for debate.
The most obvious culprit behind this whole ordeal is evidently Praful Patel, who can be held accountable for instigating FIFA against the country’s football federation, therefore, prompting them to take an immoderate step. CoA has also, predictably filed a contempt petition against Patel. The ex-president, who seems to be in denial of his loss of power may have taken an ill-intentioned decision against the country to satiate his own ego, which can now result in dire consequences for the nation in innumerable ways. However, is this letter (which was potentially just an illustration of a power-hungry man’s fragmented ego) the only reason behind this ban? While it would be rather convenient for the answer to be an easy yes, it is woefully not that simple. After the above stated inspection conducted by the international bodies, there was a pronounced deviation in the way this situation evolved from the agreed-upon conditions. Firstly the CoA failed to submit the renewed constitution by the required time of July 31. The Supreme Court subsequently ordered the CoA to hold elections as soon as feasible on August 3, which was yet another deviation from the predetermined timeline. The state of affairs further deteriorated when the CoA named 36 distinguished footballers with a 50% vote share in selecting the following AIFF President and general body. This went against FIFA's directive of having no more than 25% of players and no less than 75% of the state associations that make up the AIFF to be represented in the elections. FIFA had already made an intelligible statement about not being in opposition to AIFF’s need of giving importance to player representation, but adjacently cleared that it must not be more than 25% despite that. After the CoA appointed 36 players as representatives on August 15, the ban was allegedly initiated from FIFA’s end on account of violated guidelines.
On the other hand though, according to the statement passed by CoA on the 16th of August, FIFA and AFC were constantly kept in the loop without exceptions. As maintained by CoA, these developments had previously been parts of debates which were brought to cessation and thus the final steps (taken by CoA) were commonly agreed upon resolutions rather than being a breach of prior discussions. CoA states, “In the discussions held among the FIFA-AFC, AIFF, CoA, and the Sports Ministry in the past few days, it was suggested that the present elections of the AIFF Executive Committee may be conducted with the Electoral College consisting of 36 state representatives.” CoA clearly stated that the letter they received on July 25 mentioned, “(...) we understand the requirements of the Sports Code of India and recommended AIFF to bring in a presence of above 25 percent of the Eminent Players in the AIFF Executive Committee as Co-opted Members.” This statement then cleared out quite a bit about AIFF’s apparent ‘breach’ of guidelines. However, the amount of contradictory information that is being circulated at the moment makes it quite difficult to boil it all down to a singular conclusion. Although it is the first time for India to be banned by FIFA in the past 85 years, it is certainly not the first for FIFA to ban a country due to a third party’s undue influence. Kuwait, Indonesia, Pakistan and many others have been plunged into comparable and equally anxiety-inducing situations. For these countries the ban lasted 1-2 years. Excuse my flagrant selfishness, (not Patel’s though) but I hope we have it notably better than these countries.
Consequences on India and Indian Football
This ban is either the result of Patel maliciously resorting to pitiable deeds, as he conceivably had a vested interest in the temporary suspension of AIFF or the continued irresponsible and tardy decision making on CoA’s end- given that FIFA had already issued a warning before the final ban. Both are rather shameful and unimaginable reasons behind such a mammoth loss. Despite the cause, the consequences of this ban will be dire and will have to be faced by the country, especially the Indian teams who were eagerly anticipating their matches, and the public awaiting to view those matches. Currently, India risks losing not only the possibility of hosting the FIFA Women's U-17 World Cup, but also the right for all of its clubs to compete in any tournaments regulated by the AFC or FIFA. The winners of the Indian ATK Mohun Bagan have been disqualified from the AFC Cup Inter-zone play-off semi final that was set to take place on September 7. Additionally, clubs will be prohibited from signing any international players other than the ones they already have contracts with. Women's League, Gokulam Kerala, are in a bind since they traveled to Uzbekistan for their group matches in the AFC Women's Club Championship. The Under 17 Women's World Cup is set to begin in the middle of October, and sales of tickets for the occasion began earlier this month. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact cost the AIFF would suffer owing to advertising, media, and other partnerships, experts say it will probably be minimal if the competition finally extends outside of India at this stage. FIFA estimates that $21 million is the investment budget for the Under 17 FIFA World Cup competition. The ban will have greater financial repercussions for India's whole football industry. AIFF will lose its main source of financing (FIFA) if the suspension is upheld, which might put severe monetary strain on the organization. A Business Standard article claims that the restriction may have a 40–50% impact on football sponsorship revenue. Moreover, advertisers may choose to reduce their spending on football leagues in the future due to the uncertainty involved. The economical and social benefits the country would undeniably have reaped by hosting the October tournament will also be stripped away. Be it a short-term or a long-term disadvantage, this tribulation has only caused great pain so far, and it is probable that it will only prove to be detrimental in the foreseeable future.
Red Tapism has once again resulted in the loss of those not even involved in the process- the players. While the central government has moved to the Supreme court in an attempt to resolve matters, the near future of Indian football seems bleak. The only reasonable way forward is to meet the demands put forth by FIFA, an organization which has imposed absolute bans for far softer third party interferences. The damage done cannot be possible undone, however recourse is still a viable option, considering both parties act rationally, in the best interest of the sport.