All India Football Federation (AIFF) acting general secretary Sunando Dhar feels that the game's stakeholders in the country must learn lessons from the recent ban by FIFA and follow "due process" in the future, like holding elections on time.
World football governing body FIFA suspended the AIFF on August 15 for "undue influence by third parties" but revoked it after the Supreme Court dissolved the Committee of Administrators (CoA) constituted by it after the ouster of Praful Patel as head of the national federation for not holding polls due in December 2020.
"Hopefully, this should be the first and last suspension of the AIFF. We should have followed the process correctly. We should not bypass due process," Dhar told PTI when asked about the lessons the country should learn from the whole episode.
"The elections of the AIFF were due in 2020 and for whatever reasons they were not held for one and a half years. If the elections were held on time, the administrators would not have been appointed by the Supreme Court and there would not have been the subsequent suspension," he said in an interview.
"We should now look inwards and in future should never come to a point where the FIFA or the AFC can think of suspending India." It was the first suspension in the 85-year-old history of the AIFF and it had jeopardised India's chances of hosting the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup from October 11-30.
"FIFA had to take a call if they had to shift the venue (of the U-17 Women's World Cup) and they always had a back-up plan which we knew. So, when there was no solution in sight, I think FIFA took the call to suspend India.
"But, getting the suspension lifted in quick turnaround time of 11 days was hugely satisfying." He said the new draft constitution of the AIFF "is still a work in progress" but felt in the final form, it could be a model document for other national sports federations also.
"The old AIFF constitution of 2017 was compliant of FIFA statutes but it did not follow the National Sports Code in few areas. If those points (of the Sports Code) are addressed in the final constitution, then we are on the right path.
"The constitution is still a work in progress, not yet finalised. I don't think there would be too many major changes but there could be minor changes in the final constitution. Minor points which do not fall within the FIFA statutes or the Sports Code, those should not create problems to anyone.
"The AIFF constitution in the final form can be a model constitution for other NSFs. The doing away of the restrictive clause (regarding the eligibility of the candidates) may have effect on other cases." One of the radical provisions in the draft constitution is the eligibility of the presidential candidate who can be a citizen of India and proposed and seconded by a state association each. The other is the co-opting of 25 per cent, or six eminent players, with voting rights in a 23-member executive committee.
"FIFA has no issues on the eligibility criteria of the candidate for the president, so it should stay in the final constitution. The same is in the case of eminent players in the executive committee with voting rights.
"But the provision of having individual members coming in as eminent players is in contrast to the FIFA statutes, and that had to be taken out." The FIFA was not happy when the Supreme Court allowed 36 eminent players -- the same as state association representatives -- in the electoral college for the AIFF polls. The top court later modified its earlier order on an application by the sports ministry which did not want the country to lose the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup due to the ban.
Dhar, the I-League CEO in the Patel dispensation, said it was an "honour" to serve the AIFF as its acting general secretary during "a time of unprecedented difficulty".
Asked if he had second thoughts about taking up the top job, albeit temporarily, after Kushal Das resigned as the general secretary, he said, "No. Not at all. The CoA contacted me and they thought I am the most suitable one with a lot of experience about the functioning of AIFF. I thought it was an honour.
"I am passionate about the game and if I can do something in the most difficult period of Indian football, I would be happy. So, I took up the challenge.
"In future also, if I am entrusted with any role and responsibility in the AIFF, I will take up the most difficult job with a smile." He also said that he did not experience any kind of pressure from any side, be it the CoA, the old AIFF establishment, the state associations, or the government.
"I did not face any pressure from any side. The only pressure I faced was that of how to take Indian football out of the difficult situation. Before the suspension, the pressure was how to avoid it. After the suspension, the pressure was how to get it revoked quickly.
"Of course, the most difficult part of my job was to keep the balance (of the stakeholders). My job was to give correct guidance to all of them.
"I got co-operation from all of them. And honestly, the sports ministry had played a critical role in our collective effort to lift the suspension." Dhar also informed that the AIFF has invited observers from the FIFA, AFC, sports ministry and Indian Olympic Association for the September 2 elections.