A SUSPENSION from international football, the appointment of a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), and uncertainty over hosting the hockey World Cup. Even as the dust settles over a successful Commonwealth Games campaign, Indian sport has been thrown into turmoil.
Late Monday night, football’s world governing body FIFA announced that it had suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) “with immediate effect due to flagrant violations of the FIFA Statutes”. FIFA cited “undue interference by third party”, referring to a Supreme Court-appointed CoA to run the daily affairs of the AIFF, as the reason for suspending India.
The IOA, too, is staring at a similar fate after the Delhi High Court on Tuesday named another CoA to run the federation. Last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had threatened to suspend the IOA for outside interference in its functioning as well as not conducting its elections in a timely manner.
The IOA is the fifth sports federation, after football, hockey, judo and table tennis, to be placed under a CoA. Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Anil Dave, and ex-chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi are administrators in three of the five CoAs: football, hockey and IOA.
The latest setbacks for AIFF and IOA came at a time when a high-level delegation of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is in New Delhi for crisis talks with the Government, Hockey India and a third court-appointed CoA.
The FIH has said if their meetings, likely to take place on Wednesday, are not satisfactory, they will consider stripping India of hosting rights for the World Cup, scheduled to be held in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela in January 2023.
All these Indian sporting bodies find themselves in the dock due to governance-related issues.
In a letter to Sunando Dhar, the acting secretary general of AIFF, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said they will lift the suspension only after the “repeal of the CoA mandate in full” and once the AIFF administration is “fully in charge” of its daily affairs.
Following the decision, the Government swung into action with solicitor general Tushar Mehta apprising the Supreme Court bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna of the development. The court will hear the case on Wednesday.
A prolonged FIFA ban could have a drastic impact on Indian football. In her letter, reviewed by The Indian Express, Samoura said the suspension means the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, scheduled to be held from October 11-30, will “no longer be held as planned”. The AIFF, she said, also “loses all its membership rights as of 14 August 2022 until further notice”.
“AIFF representative and club teams are therefore no longer entitled to take part in international competitions until the suspension is lifted. This also means that neither the AIFF nor any of its members or officials may benefit from any development programmes, courses or training from FIFA and/or the AFC (Asian Football Confederation),” Samoura wrote.
In its statement, however, FIFA kept the door open for India to host the Under-17 Women’s World Cup. “FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved,” it said.
Meanwhile, a Delhi High Court bench comprising Justice Najmi Waziri and Justice Manmohan, passed a scathing 72-page judgment on the functioning of the IOA. While naming a three-member CoA, along with three consultants, to run its daily affairs, the High Court ordered that the State Olympic Associations be done away with.
“However, should the IOA insist on having them, the SOAs shall have no votes in the IOA nor will their members be elected to the IOA EC or discharge any position of authority or control nor will the SOAs be funded, patronized or supported in any manner by the Government,” the judgment said.
Apart from Justice Dave and Quraishi, the court named Ministry of External Affairs ex-secretary Vikas Swarup in the CoA. Each member will receive an honorarium of Rs 3 lakh per month. The consultant sportspersons, who will be paid Rs 1.5 lakh each, include Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, world championship medallist Anju Bobby George and Olympian Bombayla Devi.
According to the High Court order, the main task of the CoA is to bring IOA and its Constitution in compliance with the Sports Code and facilitate the holding of elections to hand over the affairs to a democratically elected body preferably within a period of 16 weeks.
The bench also recorded that in all its 95 years of existence, the IOA has never had a woman as its president or secretary general. “Surely, women do aspire to be in significant positions in the decision making process. Their presence… will lend to fruition of their valid aspirations. Accordingly, women shall comprise half of the category of sportspersons with voting rights in the General Body as well as in the EC,” said Justice Waziri in the ruling.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Manmohan expressed surprise that the IOA Constitution stipulates that its president can be for life. “…one is reminded of the mausoleum of first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, where terracotta soldiers were buried with the purpose of protecting the Emperor in his afterlife,” he said.