The winds of change seem to be sweeping the All India Football Federation. The metamorphosis is wrought by the recent verdicts of the country’s Supreme Court, which has blown off the Federation’s executive order in preference for a new constitution and a new committee.
The intervention from the apex court came on the back of some appeals that questioned the validity of the incumbent executive body that was holding to power despite seeing its term ending almost 17 months ago.
Some frowned on this arrangement as the AIFF president Praful Patel was supposed to step down after having completed three consecutive terms and 12 years in office in December 2020. The president’s office appeared to be driven into a monolithic state where it was resisting repeated demands from the affiliated state associations to initiate the election process for a new executive body.
The seeds of the problem lay in the lethargic approach of the Federation to the formulation and adoption of a constitution in line with the sports code of the country. It was back in 2017 when the Supreme Court through an order constituted the first committee of administrators, comprising former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly, to formulate the new AIFF constitution.
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The process dragged on for years till the AIFF executive committee approached the end of its term. With a raging pandemic throwing the world in disarray, the AIFF mandarins sought to extend its term of office indefinitely citing that the “constitution was sub judice,” in a virtually held AGM in December 2020.
Having seen the end of its legal term in office, the AIFF executive continued to function as an interim body with Patel announcing in the AGM that the “executive committee will not take any major financial or policy decisions during this extended period till the AIFF elections are held.” The interim arrangement rolled on to a state of indefiniteness as the executive committee continued in office well beyond a year.
The uncertainty about the new constitution came handy again as the AIFF filed yet another petition to the Apex Court to organize the second AGM in February 2022. But this time Patel faced voices of dissent from some state units, who wanted to know why the Federation was delaying the elections.
“The AIFF president said that the interim executive committee will not take any major financial or policy decisions but in reality, the interim committee overstepped its jurisdiction and kept taking all major financial and policy decisions. It was appointing and making huge payments to a lot of vendors and bidding for international events, which it was not supposed to do,” said a state association official not willing to be named.
“The AIFF executive committee kept extending its term citing delay on the Supreme Court’s part. So, it was upon the Top Court to intervene, which it did by removing the president and the executive committee to initiate the much-needed process of change,” said another state association representative. The Supreme Court added the name of its former Judge Anil Dave with the existing CoA members and asked it to take charge of AIFF to “facilitate holding of elections in consonance with the new constitution.” The order came soon after Bhaskar Ganguly wrote to the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana that he and Quraishi had submitted the draft constitution to the court in January 2022.
Ganguli’s letter stirred up the legal process and brought to light multiple pleas urging the Top Court to look into the “illegal continuation of the AIFF executive committee.” The axe finally fell on the AIFF executive committee on May 18 when the CoA was asked to take charge of AIFF and bring order in the Federation. The unceremonious removal of the executive committee immediately gave birth to fears of a ban coming from the world governing body football – FIFA. It was said that the world body does not acknowledge “third party interference” in the functioning of its affiliates and a ban was soon to happen making India a pariah in world football.
The CoA made a smart move by asking the former president Praful Patel, who is a FIFA Council member since 2019, to explain the proper perspective behind the Supreme Court order. “Mr. Patel has written to the FIFA, explaining to them the perspective (behind the court-ordered move), so as to dispel the apprehensions. After that, if they have any doubts, they should disappear. Any remaining doubts should be covered if they met us physically and that we are a group of well-meaning people,” Quraishi said to dispel the fears of a ban. The senior Indian men’s team completed its qualification to the main round of the continental contest, AFC Asian Cup, unhindered before a delegation of FIFA and the continental body, AFC, arrived on a fact-finding mission in the third week of June.
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The delegation, headed by the AFC general secretary Windsor John, met the CoA and the other “stakeholders” including the members of state associations, ISL and I-League clubs, marketing rights holder Football Sports Development Ltd, Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and Praful Patel to understand the situation. The ban was avoided as the CoA pledged a timeline by which the new constitution and the subsequent elections will be formalized. The delegation, in the end, asked the AIFF to complete the whole process by September 15, failing which a ban would become imminent.
Before the FIFA-AFC delegation arrived the beleaguered general secretary of AIFF, Kushal Das, went on medical leave as the CoA immediately appointed the CEO of Leagues, Sunando Dhar, as the acting general secretary. Das’ departure became apparent as the CoA started probing the accounts and found numerous discrepancies. Das finally tendered his resignation on June 30 citing medical reasons and this virtually completed the departure of the AIFF top brass after 12 long years.
The churning process is expected to bring skeletons out of AIFF’s cupboard as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India started an audit of accounts for alleged financial irregularities. The CAG initially sought to probe the AIFF accounts of the last four financial years but the scope of audit was later enhanced to cover the whole tenure of the ousted president Praful Patel, from 2008-09 to 2020-21, revealed a source privy to the development.
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This was a significant development as reports of questionable dealings started pouring out soon. The first in the line was the news of AIFF splurging Rs. 16 lakh on an astrology agency hired to "motivate" the senior men’s national team that reached the Asian Cup main round. “As it works out there are a number of financial irregularities related to the National teams, where the spending is huge. The AIFF gets more than Rs. 100 crore every year from FSDL, Indian Government and FIFA. What the CAG will be looking at is the way the money has been spent so far, especially the government funds, which is a substantial amount coming under the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition scheme,” revealed an AIFF insider.
While the CAG probes AIFF’s financial dealings and the CoA sets the house in order for the proposed elections, the state association came together to appeal for a purge of the national team department, which under the charge of the ‘national teams’ director’ Abhishek Yadav, has invited a lot of bad blood in recent times. “The State FAs express their no-confidence in the working of the National Team department. Since AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 one or the other issues have badly hit the reputation of Indian football.
An independent enquiry should be conducted in the management and functioning of the National Team department especially the decisions and actions of the Head of National Team Department should be thoroughly probed to establish the frequent failures including the appointment of the coaches and scouts in AIFF,” said a statement endorsed by 28 state associations.
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