Supreme Court hearing in FIFA case HIGHLIGHTS: SC hands back AIFF’s day-to-day management to federation’s administration

The Supreme Court of India, called to find a resolution to the impasse, passed a few orders bearing in mind the importance of the nation hosting the U-17 Women’s World Cup.

The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The Supreme Court of India, called to find a resolution to the impasse, passed a few orders bearing in mind the importance of the nation hosting the U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Welcome to the highlights of the Supreme Court’s hearing on India’s ban by FIFA.

LIVE UPDATES

- Our legal correspondent Krishnadas Rajagopal updates: SC directions: 

1. AIFF election programme modified. The date of election has been extended by one week.

2. Voters’ list shall consist of member associations of states and union Territories (35+1 associations)

3. The returning officers shall be deemed to be appointed by the apex court.

4. Day to day management of AIFF shall be looked at by the AIFF administration led by the Acting Secretary General exclusively. Consequently, this would mean the termination of the mandate of Committee of Administrators (CoA). CoA lawyer, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, will continue as the apex court’s amicus curiae.

5. The CoA has already submitted the Draft Constitution of the AIFF.

6. RO shall accept nominations for the elections.

7. For the purpose of ensuing election, the Executive Committee of AIFF shall comprise of 23 persons (17 persons- inclusive of President, Vice President and Treasurer- who shall be elected by the representatives of 36 member associations from States/UTs) ,6 members shall be drawn from eminent players.

SC says it has modified its earlier orders in the hope that FIFA revokes its suspension of AIFF and road blocks to India hosting Under 17 Women’s World Cup in October are removed.

SC also notes that preliminary findings of a forensic audit on AIFF has been made available. A final report is due. Mr. Sankaranarayanan offers to place it before the court once the final report is ready.The court said it will, on a future date, also take up a contempt petition filed by former AIFF president Praful Patel and some others for “indirectly” thwarting the SC’s orders.

- The Forensic audit report will be produced soon.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan: They are planning to hold polls without having players in the general body. That can’t happen, it is in violation of the sports code.

- SG submits that FIFA has the following concerns:

a. the admin of AIFF be conducted by a newly elected body.

b. electoral college for the forthcoming elections should consist of representations of State Associations.

c. independent electoral committee should oversee elections to the new executive committee.

d. AIFF constitution should be revised in accordance with requirements of FIFA and AFC.

e. election take place at the earliest and they resume admin.

- Kapil Sibal for Praful Patel: I agree with the solicitors’ suggestions. If any Contempt on my part, please proceed with criminal case. I want football to be promoted. I do not want to be in any post in the organisation. I brought the U-17 football WC to India. 

Gopal: And now the suspension for India!

Kapil: Don’t say all that...

- SC asks for a 10-minute discussion time.

- SG: Glad the issue regarding the audit was brought out. Concerned ministry can be asked to take action.

- Advocate Rahul Mehra: ... All this has been created by Praful Patel and his seven people. Same thing happened in BCCI case and court had come down heavily on them.

- An interim report with respect to AIFF’s audit has been submitted by Deloitte to CoA. There are findings of siphoning off.

- Gopal: I think that even if your lordship finalises the constitution, FIFA will finally decide if it is right or not and I find that unacceptable.

- Gopal: India would not have been allowed to participate in the U17 World Cup if we were not hosting. The conseqnuce of losing the tournament is that Indian team will not be playing the World Cup.

- Gopal: We want players to be included. We have progressed with the election process. The CoA has seen impact of previous World Cup.

- Gopal: Prior to August, your lordships noted the importance of World Cup and called for elections. Every person here agreed to it. Some people went to FIFA and told them there was no agreement. FIFA then writes and says, ‘we do not know who this third party (CoA) is’.

- Gopal: We must divorce ourselves from what our clients want and give proper assistance to the court. CoA is an extension of the Court. The tone of every letter sent by FIFA says this is the third party intervention.

- SC: Do you want us to take it to a logical conclusion at the cost of the U17 WC?

Bhutia’s Counsel: I’d rather have system reforms so that one day India will qualify for the main World Cup itself.

- Counsel for Bhutia: FIFA is putting a gun on the head, saying accept all this. The least FIFA can do is respect the majesty of the Supreme Court.

- Counsel for Bhaichung Bhutia: ... I have captained India for 7 years and 100-plus matches. With vested interests, there’s no chance for players like me to part of the administration. I have not filed this just to be president myself.

- Prayers from Union Govt’s petition are now being heard.

- SC: How much time do we have for fresh nominations? There are 36 voters.

SG: May give 2 days.

Senior Advocate Menaka Guruswamy: Associations will need time.

- SC: Without changing the election dates, we cannot have new nominations. If you feel 28th (August) is too short, then we will postpone it. Tournament is our priority now, it should some to India.

- SG: Mr. Gopal Sankaranarayanan, instead of appearing for the CoA, can be appointed as amicus so that he can assist with the Constitution.

- SG: Right now we propose 25% of the Elected Executive Committee be of eminent players. Today, I have received application by Bhaichung Bhutia. He is a legend of the game. GoI would request his services for a much larger role that what he is aiming at. I am not commenting on the contents of his application.

- SG: There may be some vested interests who may have played a role, but GoI will have to insulate itself from that.

- SG: We tried to examine if India was being discrimnated. But FIFA has a uniform policy. There are some 18 suspension orders across the world. India is not being singled out.

- Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: The result of suspension is disastrous. We will lose right to host (U-17) World Cup. None of our players can play international football in any part of the world.

Meanwhile, Bhaichung Bhutia has filed an intervention petition in the Supreme Court, supporting AIFF’s new Constitution and the 36-member electoral college of eminent players.

“The Applicant submits that the much-needed reforms within AIFF, and the Indian Football at large, cannot be held to ransom because of FIFA’s suspension or any other threats. Reverting to existing system would allow the vested interests to have a stranglehold on AIFF for 4 more years and thereby damage the sport irreparably,” Bhutia’s application said.

WHAT IS THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT IN THE AIFF CASE?

In a desperate move to get the FIFA ban on AIFF revoked, the central government on Sunday moved an application in the Supreme Court, seeking an end to the “mandate” of the Committee of Administrators (CoA), as demanded by the world governing body.

The sports ministry’s move, a day before a crucial hearing of the top court, can be seen as an attempt to salvage the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, scheduled to be held in October.

The world body had on August 15 imposed a ban on All India Football Federation (AIFF) due to “third party interference” and said that the women’s age-group showpiece “cannot currently be held in India as planned”.

The government in its application has virtually accepted all the demands made by the FIFA, including ending the tenure of the SC-appointed CoA as well as not allowing individual members in the electoral college.

It, however, said that the ousted Praful Patel-led dispensation should be excluded from the AIFF.

“...this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to ... direct that day-to-day management of AIFF shall be looked after by the AIFF administration led by the acting Secretary General to the exclusion of the earlier elected body and the CoA will have no role in the administration of AIFF from 22.08.2022,” the application read.

“... to require the CoA to submit the final draft constitution to this Hon’ble Court by the end of 23.08.2022, and that the mandate of the COA be declared to be over in full from 23.08.2022.” In its statement while suspending AIFF, the FIFA had said the lifting of the suspension on AIFF will be subject to repealing of CoA’s mandate in full. FIFA also said that it wants the AIFF administration to “be fully in charge of the AIFF’s daily affairs”.

The world body had said that it wants an “independent electoral committee to be elected by the AIFF general assembly to run the elections of a new executive committee”.

It had also said that the AIFF must hold its elections based on the pre-existing membership of the AIFF” (i.e state associations only without individual members).

After the SC approved the holding of AIFF elections on August 28, the process of filing nomination papers was completed on Saturday.

Seven candidates, including the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia, have filed nomination papers for the president’s post, though the returning officer on Sunday rejected two of them after the proposer and seconder said they have not signed any nomination paper of any candidate.

One of the government plea, that of not allowing eminent players as individual members in the electoral college, if accepted by the SC may put Bhutia’s candidature under a cloud as he has been proposed and seconded by an eminent player each.

“Because of the suggested changes in the electoral college, the process of election may be required to be started ‘de novo’ since the change in the voters list may affect the validity of some of the nomination forms which may have been proposed/seconded by the player members who are now prayed for being excluded from the voters’ list,” the government plea read.

The government also made a plea to modify the election programme approved by the top court in its August 3 order but said that the returning officer and his assistant, who were appointed by the CoA to conduct AIFF polls on August 28, be allowed to continue.

“... direct for election from the stage stipulated on 13.08.2022 (date of election notification) based upon the voters list containing representatives of member associations only which already published excluding the 36 players.

“and be pleased to direct the Returning Officers to complete all stages of election up to the counting of votes and declaration of results with such changed dates as this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to specify.” The government also proposed that the Executive Committee of the AIFF may consist of 23 members, including six eminent players.

“The 17 members (inclusive of the president, a treasurer, and one vice president) will be elected by the above electoral college.

“Out of the six eminent payers, four will be men and two will be women. The eminent players may be nominated (co-opted) in the EC and shall have the voting rights in Executive Committee, thus making their representation to be around 25 percent of the EC.” The government said the “problem facing the country is acute and it is of utmost importance that India does not lose its right to host the prestigious FIFA Under-17 Women World Cup, 2022 nor the brilliant football players of the country (irrespective of the age group) are deprived of participating in international competitions.

“An indulgence by this Hon’ble Court is the only way forward and will serve a larger interest of the nation.

“This Honble Court has the power to do complete justice and this would be one of those rarest of rare case where this Hon’ble Court may, if required, bend any procedural rules to do complete justice.”

- Press Trust of India

WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN THE PREVIOUS SUPREME COURT HEARING ON AUGUST 17?

Our legal correspondent Krishnadas Rajagopal had reported: “The case has been adjourned to August 22. Centre says it is ‘trying to break the ice’ with FIFA for removal of the ban and permission to host the (U17 Women’s) World Cup.” More on that here.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDIA’S FIFA BAN?

  • ⦿ Indian senior men’s football team has qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2023, which is yet to have a host nation after China pulled out of hosting the tournament. The draw for the finals is scheduled to take place later this year and if the suspension isn’t reversed in time, India will not be able to take part in the Asian Cup.
  • ⦿ India was scheduled to host the U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in October and as things stand, the tournament can go ahead in the country only if the suspension is lifted.
  • ⦿ Gokulam Kerala had qualified for the AFC Women’s Club Championship for a second successive season after winning the Indian Women’s League in May. The Kerala-based side will return home on Monday from Uzbekistan after it was removed from the AFC Women’s Club Championships following the ban.
  • ⦿ The 23-member team, led by India captain Ashalata Devi, were left stranded in Tashkent for six days since arriving at the Uzbekistan capital on August 16, the day the news of the ban imposed on the AIFF by the world governing body FIFA reached India.
  • ⦿ ATK Mohun Bagan has qualified for the AFC Cup inter-zone playoffs semifinals, scheduled for September 7. But its participation is in doubt.
  • ⦿ The boys’ U-17 team’s participation in the 2023 U17 Asian Cup qualifiers is in jeopardy with the matches slated for October.
  • ⦿ The suspension will not affect the domestic football calendar and tournaments like the Durand Cup, Indian Super League, I-League and the Super Cup will likely go ahead on schedule. However, these tournaments will not be recognised by FIFA or AFC.
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