IN A verdict that paves the way for Indian football’s return to the international fold after a brief period of isolation, the Supreme Court on Monday dissolved the three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) it had appointed in May to look after the daily affairs of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
While handing over the day-to-day management of the federation to the AIFF administration, led by its acting secretary general Sunando Dhar, the apex court bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud said in its order that the decision was taken in “national interest” so that the suspension is lifted and players are not affected.
“The mandate of the Committee of Administrators appointed by the order of this Court stands terminated,” a bench of Justices Chandrachud and A S Bopanna said in its order.
Since the suspension was announced on August 15, Indian Women’s League champions Gokulam Kerala were barred from competing in the Asian Club Championship; the men’s national team matches in September against Singapore and Vietnam have been cancelled; and, there was a risk that India would be stripped of hosting rights for the U-17 Women’s World Cup in October.
The Supreme Court order came after the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, late on Sunday, filed an application seeking an end to the “mandate” of the CoA, among other things, so that FIFA would lift the suspension imposed on AIFF.
The court also postponed the date to hold AIFF elections, originally scheduled for August 28, by one week. It said that the voters’ list will consist only of representatives from state and union territory federations, thus excluding India internationals from the electoral roll, as proposed by the CoA but objected to by FIFA.
“The above directions are passed in modification of the previous orders to facilitate the revocation of the suspension of AIFF and the holding of the Under-17 World Cup in order to ensure that the prestige of the nation and ability of players to participate in international tournaments is not affected,” the court said.
“In the event that the above process is not taken to its logical conclusions, the court will consider subsequent orders,” it said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had earlier told the court that the immediate consequence of the suspension would be that India would lose the chance to host the Under-17 Women’s World Cup — and Indian teams and its affiliated clubs would no longer be entitled to take part in international matches or competitions.
FIFA will take a final call on lifting the sanction against Indian football. It has conveyed to the Sports Ministry that it will recommend to the Bureau of FIFA Council, its decision-making body on the issue, that the suspension be lifted — if the world body is satisfied with the court verdict.
The football saga began five years ago following a logjam in finalising the AIFF’s constitution, which led to a delay in holding the federation’s elections. In May, the Supreme Court appointed the CoA to run daily affairs of the AIFF, thus ending the 12-year stint of its then chief, Praful Patel.
Following weeks of negotiations between the CoA, Government, state federations as well as the world and continental football bodies, the Bureau of FIFA Council — comprising FIFA president Gianni Infantino and heads of the six confederations — suspended AIFF on August 14.
FIFA cited third-party interference, referring to decisions taken by the CoA that impacted the federation’s functioning, as the reason for suspension, saying that it violated their rules.
On August 15, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura, in a letter to Dhar, said the suspension will be lifted only after the “repeal of the CoA mandate in full” and once the AIFF administration is “fully in charge” of its daily affairs.
This was reiterated in an email to the Sports Ministry and Asian Football Confederation on August 20. In its communication, FIFA said: “…should both conditions for the lifting of the suspension, as foreseen in the Bureau of the FIFA Council decision dated 14 August 2022, be satisfied by the final order of the Hon Supreme Court next week, the FIFA administration will recommend to the Bureau of FIFA Council the lifting of the suspension with immediate effect.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court also said that the new executive council of the AIFF would consist of 23 members, of whom 17 members — including the president, treasurer, and one vice-president — will be elected by the representatives of the 36 state and union territories representatives. Apart from these 17 members, six eminent players (four men, two women) would be co-opted to the executive council with voting rights.
During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the CoA, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, claimed “there are findings of siphoning off” funds in an interim audit report of the AIFF, which has been submitted by Deloitte to the CoA. The court said the Government will take the final report into consideration once it is received.