The All India Football Federation (AIFF) was in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. On August 24, in a short interview with a local TV Channel, the President of All Manipur Football Association (AMFA) claimed Praful Patel offered to resign his Presidentship after his term is over but was asked to continue by the States’ representatives as election could not be held due to COVID-19 and that FIFA had lifted the suspension. One was confused by the statements and makes one wonder whether our representation to AIFF is at all aware of the reasons for the unsavoury developments in AIFF.
Praful Patel continued as President claiming that the matter is sub-judice arising out from a 2017 case filed by him before the Supreme Court. There were objections to his continuation from the representatives of various states like Karnataka, J&K, Delhi, Kerala, etc.
Only when a petition was filed by Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra before the Supreme Court was he thrown out by the Court and a Three-Member Committee of Administrators (CoA) comprising former Justice of the Supreme Court Justice AR Dave, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly were appointed; mandated to manage the day-to-day affairs of AIFF, adapt the Constitution in line with the National Sports Code and prepare an electoral roll for election to be held within a time frame.
After some time, on the instigation of Praful Patel as alleged by the CoA, FIFA placed under suspension AIFF on August 15 on the ground of flagrant violation of the FIFA Statutes and undue influence from third parties.
The immediate casualty was Gokulam FC which was in Tashkent for the Asia Women Club Championship where it has a fairly good chance of proceeding further and the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be hosted by India in October. CoA had filed a contempt petition against Praful Patel for his undue interference.
The CoA erred in trying to ensure 50% of former eminent players in the Electoral College by incorporating in the Constitution. Every organisation is self serving and any new changes even in the overall interest of the organisation will be objected to, if the present ruling dispensation is likely to be affected. There is serious cronyism in all sports disciplines in all parts of the globe including India and Manipur. The attempt to incorporate the salient provisions of the National Sports Code was one of the major undoing resulting in the suspension.
In the case of cricket, this was done despite objections from the international governing body ICC, as India has the clout as most of the finances were generated in India and ICC can be left out in the lurch if India decides to start a new governing body. In other sports, the clout of India is at the most marginal and if third party interference was allowed in India, it will follow suit in other countries including European countries and it is likely that UEFA can change the functioning of the existing dispensation in FIFA. Protecting one’s own self interest is the primacy.
The Government filed an affidavit incorporating all the demands of FIFA and the CoA was disbanded by the Supreme Court, though 25% of the Executive Committee will have eminent players who shall be co-opted. This was to ensure that FIFA’s Women World U-17 tournament scheduled in October is held in India. There is still confusion whether candidates like Baichung Bhutia or Kalyan Chaubey who filed as individuals without representing any state unit will be permitted to contest though both of them were strong contenders.
After the Supreme Court ordered disbanding the CoA, and after writing to FIFA by the acting Secretary General of AIFF on the development, FIFA revoked the suspension on August 26.
There is no doubt that cronyism is rampant in sports administration and people from politics want to enter and refuse to leave. Two politicians Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Praful Patel were in the helm of AIFF for 34 years. The Sports Code and the Lodha Committee recommendations make an attempt to break such monopoly of powerful individuals who refuse to leave as Indians love to cling rather than retire gracefully. But were enforcement of the Sports Code and the recommendations of the Lodha Committee through legal route the answer? It seems not, as the concerned international body will object to third party interference. Thus, the Union and state governments must ensure its compliance by tightening the purse string.
The government can refuse grants to any sports body which do not conform to the sports code and the recommendations of the Lodha Committee. Except for cricket which can sustain on its own, no other federation or association can manage without government grants. Even in the BCCI, once the current dispensation came into being, they petitioned the Supreme Court to relax some of the provisions with an eye to cling to power. From a provision of 85 crore per annum for AIFF, it was slashed to 5 crore and this is the way to go ahead. The only problem with the government is that if the person involved belongs to the ruling party such reduction may not have happened.
It may also be appreciated that people without passion for the game will not be able to do justice. In this regard, it is not only the ex-players who have a passion but there are many who are deeply interested in specific games devoting time, energy and money towards its development. In any game, grass root development is the key to make the game grow in the country. Now, for football there are academies in almost every part of the country; most of them are for the money and do not properly look after the career and interest of the players. For proper development there should be a hierarchy of clubs with the top tier drawing from the lower tier clubs and ensuring that the lower tier clubs are reimbursed for the development of the players. But in India, amateur players can switch clubs anytime even without clearance from the original clubs.
Amateur players cannot go on loan to another club and have to switch clubs if they want to play in another club and the original club has no say. In such a situation, players who generally belong to a poor family tend to switch clubs on receipt of a few thousands while leaving the original club high and dry. In such a situation which club will train young players investing 5/6 years before being scouted by bigger teams?
Earlier there was a system where clearance from the original club was insisted upon but due to pressure from bigger clubs such conditions were lifted and now it is free for all. Despite instructions, very few ISL or I League teams maintain sub-junior or junior teams and when tournaments for such age groups are being held, these clubs will manage to get players from the lower tier clubs for a limited period. There is a need for a proper system so that clubs in every tier can sustain themselves. If not there will be academies who will exploit players and serious academies and lower tier clubs will vanish.
The federations and associations must ensure that players play at least 30/40 matches in a year, with a rest period of 2/3 days between matches. But in Manipur, there are many players who could play at most 7/8 matches in a season and in such circumstances there is no hope for the growth of young players.
The associations must ensure that there is proper recuperation time between matches, not like what is done in the Subroto Cup tournaments or in the National or State Games where teams play on a daily basis and sometimes even twice a day! AFC insists on a club playing 27 matches domestically for qualifying in the Asia Club Championship and that is the reason why teams from ISL and I-League joined Durand Cup from this year as this tournament has been recognised as one of the Cup Championship of India.
Proper planning with a player centric approach is the need of the hour and not merely fulfilling the annual calendar with crowded fixtures. Number of tournaments must increase, not the five a side or the seven a side tournaments but the full eleven a side ones as the set of skills required are different. Further, the playground should be conducive to football and should not be a danger to the players, not like the artificial turf at Lamlong Thongkhong which is past its longevity and puts risk on the players due to broken sub-surface.
It is hoped that the new dispensation will look into the game in a holistic manner and come up with a systematic and scientific approach with players in the centre so that the game flourish and the players are allowed to grow. If not, they should also have to quit.
(The views expressed is personal)