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FIFA suspends India; do the pros outweigh the cons? Sikkimese footballers explain

FIFA suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on August 16

While India was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the nation’s independence, a stark silhouette of a suspension was looming over the head of Indian football. On August 16, FIFA suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) stating it was due to ‘undue influence from third parties’.

The AIFF has, subsequently, lost all its FIFA membership rights including the hosting rights of the U-17 Women’s World Cup which was to be held in October. Furthermore, no Indian football teams will be able to participate in any international competitions, neither the AIFF nor any of its members or officials will be able to benefit from any developmental programmes courses or training from FIFA or the AFC.

The collateral damage in this decision has undeniably been the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, scheduled to take place in India on 11-30 October 2022, which will not be held in India as a result.

‘The event cannot currently be held in India as planned’, FIFA said in its statement.

“The Bureau of the FIFA Council has unanimously decided to suspend the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with immediate effect due to undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes,” stated the international governing body of football in a press release.

“The suspension will be lifted once the decision to create a committee of administrators to exercise the authority of the AIFF Executive Committee has been reversed and the AIFF administration has full control over the organisation’s day-to-day operations,” according to FIFA.

“The suspension means that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022™, scheduled to take place in India on 11-30 October 2022, cannot currently be held in India as planned. FIFA is assessing the next steps with regard to the tournament and will refer the matter to the Bureau of the Council if and when necessary.” FIFA’s release further stated.

Sikkim Chronicle took stock of the situation and spoke to the stakeholders and professional footballers from Sikkim to learn more about what this ban would mean in terms of Indian football and subsequently, the football in Sikkim.

Talking to Sikkim Chronicle, footballers and football stakeholders like Bhaichung Bhutia, Nirmal Pradhan, and Sanju Pradhan, though obviously saddened by the situation, implied that the pros would outweigh the cons and that it would definitely come as a betterment for the whole footballing fraternity of India.

To be able to fathom what the situation is, what the cause was, and what its implication might be, one has to know about the timeline and what lead to this grave situation which strips India of the honour of hosting the esteemed U-17 Women’s World Cup.

On May 12, the Supreme Court (SC) agreed to hear a plea from Delhi FC, alleging the illegal continuation of Praful Patel as president of AIFF for over a decade, whose incumbency had allegedly hampered the rights of the footballing fraternity.

On May 18, the SC relieved Praful Patel from his post as AIFF president; his term in office had already ended in December, 2020. He had served three terms of four years each as the AIFF president, which is the maximum time period an administrator can serve as per the Government of India’s National Sports Development Code.

The SC, then appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), consisting former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, Justice (retd) AR Dave and former Indian football team captain Bhaskar Ganguly, to manage the AIFF.

On May 22, about 25 AIFF-affiliated state associations met virtually to discuss the way forward. A seven-member committee was formed to go through the draft constitution and make suggestions (objections) before submitting it to the CoA.

The members for the committee were: Subrata Dutta (IFA), Shaji Prabhakaran (Delhi), K Satyanarayan (Karnataka), Vijay Bali (Punjab), Avijit Paul (Odisha), Mulrajsinh Chudasama (Gujarat) and Lalnghinglova (Tetea) Hmar (Mizoram).

On June 18, the Indian men’s football team coach Igor Stimac – on the back of three back-to-back wins and qualification to the Asian Cup – gave an interview in which he spoke about how FIFA looked at federations where there’s been a political intervention with disdain.

“We might have problems very soon if these elections are not held sooner than later, if we don’t start organising ourselves which is impossible as I see now,” Stimac said.

On June 20 the CoA appointed an advisory committee to “advise and assist them on day-to-day operations.” Ranjit Bajaj, Delhi FC owner and staunch critic of the previous regime, was named the chairman and was also given charge of integrity matters.

There were 11 others, entrusted with everything from logistics to legal to finance, many of them known for expressing their criticism of Patel’s administration. All this while most members under Patel’s administration remained in their posts.

On June 21 a seven-member FIFA-AFC delegation landed in India on a three-day visit to survey all things Indian football. Led by AFC general secretary Windsor John, the delegation held meetings with the CoA, sports minister Anurag Thakur, Praful Patel, representatives from the Indian Super League and I-League and officials from the AIFF and state associations.

At the same time, the 12-member advisory committee was disbanded, just over 24 hours after it was formed.

On June 23, the visiting FIFA-AFC team set strict deadlines for the CoA, to get the AIFF constitution approved by July 31 and conduct the elections by September 15. The team had emphasized on the fact that failing to adhere to the deadlines would attract a ban.

On July 6, the CoA met the seven-member state association committee [formed on May 22], to discuss their suggestions regarding the draft constitution.

On July 13 the CoA sent the final draft of the AIFF constitution to FIFA and state associations.

On July 18 the state associations were unhappy with several provisions in the final draft constitution but are willing to “find a middle ground” to avoid a FIFA ban.

On July 21, the SC directed all parties to file objections, if any, to the draft constitution by July 25.

On July 26, FIFA told AIFF that it recommends having a 25 percent ‘eminent player representation’ in its Executive Committee as co-opted members instead of the 50 percent stipulated in the draft.

On August 3, the SC directed AIFF’s executive committee to hold elections as per the schedule proposed by the CoA and August 28 was finalised as the date for the elections. It also said there would be a 50% eminent player representation and that the constitution will be finalised post the election.

On August 6, FIFA threatened the AIFF with a suspension and said it would revoke India’s rights to host the Women’s U-17 World Cup if they assess that there has been undue third party influence.

On August 7, the CoA assured FIFA that all was well, furnished with a guarantee from the Prime Minister for the holding of the U17 Women’s World Cup.

On August 10, the COA filed a contempt petition against ousted AIFF president Praful Patel for “interfering with the proceedings” of the Supreme Court. According to reports foul play was alleged against Patel in nudging the FIFA and AFC to interfere in the proceedings.

On August 11, SC warned the state units of “exercising its authority” if ousted AIFF chief Praful Patel attends its meetings and interferes with the administration of justice.

On August 13, AIFF named 36 ’eminent’ players in the list of voters comprising the electoral college for the general body elections, which were to be held on August 28.

On August 15, FIFA held its ground and reiterated to the Indian sports ministry that it opposes inclusion of individual members’ in the electoral college for the upcoming AIFF election and on August 16, FIFA suspended AIFF.

(timeline curated by ESPN)

The Sikkim Football Association President, Menla Ethenpa said, because he had the voting rights with the AIFF, and because it was a matter under sub-judice, he was “not in a position to give any remarks.”

Speaking to Sikkim Chronicle, reacting to the ban, and what it means for the future of Indian footballing fraternity, former footballer, Bhaichung Bhutia said, “Very unfortunate that FIFA has banned Indian football and at the same time I feel it’s a very harsh decision of FIFA to ban Indian football.”

“But at the same time I feel it’s a great opportunity for us (the whole Indian footballing fraternity) to get our system right. It’s very important that all the stakeholders — the federation, the state associations, to come together and get the system right and everybody to work for the betterment of Indian football,” he added.

Elaborating on the situation, what the way forward could mean because of this suspension, former Indian team footballer, Sanju Pradhan told Sikkim Chronicle that the situation arose because AIFF was in pursuit of a new constitution (as per the timeline) that would enable extensive voting rights to the stakeholders and would be on the contrary to the old ‘unconstitutional way the AIFF ran’.

“The FIFA suspending AIFF happened because AIFF was looking to change the constitution, and the players and stakeholders had filed a PIL to remove the former AIFF president who was running it unconstitutionally and devoid of voting rights for stakeholders.” Pradhan told Sikkim Chronicle.

“The system in AIFF (under Patel) was unconstitutional and they were doing it arbitrarily, they were voting themselves and choosing presidency themselves.” Pradhan added.

“I have the feeling that the former president has been politically sending letters to FIFA to tell them such-and-such is happening, which led to this ban and I think that this is the right time to create a new system for India. I feel if the new system is good and functions well, it will be great for Indian football.” He further added.

Talking about how giving a good amount of voting rights to the players and stakeholders would dramatically change the way the system works, Pradhan said, “The CoA formed after the ousting to former president have been trying to formulate a new constitution with 30 percent voting rights to the ex-players, these rights weren’t there in the old system.”

“I am really happy with where the CoA are heading and it is extremely important for the players to have a voting right to get into the system and work in tandem with it,” he added.

Pradhan, further drawing comparison with what was happening in the state association with what is happening within the AIFF said, “the same thing happened in SFA like the way AIFF ran arbitrarily, and I know that FIFA is only going to ban India until AIFF gets its orders correct. I know that FIFA will welcome our (AIFF’s) constitution if it is made in a good way that benefits Indian football.”

“The system that CoA in the AIFF are trying to create, if that is implemented, it would also be easy for the ex-players in Sikkimese football to demand the same kind of voting rights from the SFA, and if that is successfully implemented it would beget a bright future not just for our state but for the whole of India,” he added.

Earlier Football Players Association of Sikkim (FPAS), of which both Pradhan and Nirmal Chettri are members of, had demanded the dissolution of (Sikkim Football Association) SFA.

Nirmal Chettri, former Indian international, duly stressed on the fact that a positive change in the Indian footballing system that draws almost mirrored parallels with Sikkimese footballing system, would only be possible if there is a right constitution at place that allows eminent players to have voting rights. So there would be a representation of all players and a transparency to their conditions, in the way the system works, so it works for the better of Indian football.

“The decision of FIFA has come as a mess for the Indian football and this is also a wake-up call. Now, this is a right time for the Indian Football to put the system in a right place otherwise we will suffer in the long run”, Chettri said.

“This was coming”, Chettri told Sikkim Chronicle, “the way the system was set, the way things seemed out of place, it was imminent.” “As far as Indian football is concerned, this can be seen as a dark day,” he added.

Saying that this will be a “short term loss but a long term gain” Chettri spoke about the way each domino fell in the timeline to cause this “big mess.”  Speaking about how the ban came about and comparing this incident with the FIFA ban of Russia, he said, that “FIFA is an independent body and their decisions are in accordance with their laws, and their statuses are implied all over the world, not just in one country.”

“It was imminent because when an unwanted and unnecessary person (in terms of footballing conditions), takes the presidency for so long without proper mandate this was bound to happen,” Chettri said accusing of Patel on acting in self-interests rather than the upliftment of the footballing community.

He said, “Mr Praful Patel, the former president of AIFF is an executive council member of the FIFA and vice president of AFC, so I sense foul play in this ban.” “Now, when the head of organisations are corrupt and stays in there for long, even the peon of that organisation tends to hold those corrupt behaviours. This is the same case in Sikkim, the same kind of arbitrary behaviour and absence of voting rights,” he added.

Chettri kept stressing on the fact that this ban is a wake-up call for the footballing community and all the football lovers should push to establish a new and better system that gives the some portion of the powers that shape policies, makes investments, creates avenues, etc., within the system to people who genuinely care about Indian football.

With elaboration about the ban and with the testimonies of these players who have literally gave their blood, sweat, and tears to Indian football, it is clear that though this suspension has shamed the footballing fraternity in India, it has also cleared foggy visions towards what’s important is creating a viable system that works for the betterment of Indian football.

The question that needs answering is, will AIFF form a new committee with its elections ending in August, frame new constitution and bring about positive changes, and will that lead to the pros outweighing the cons?

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