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SC brings Praful Patel era in Indian football to an end

AIFF president had completed three full terms; apex court appoints CoA to manage affairs.

Praful Patel hopes FIFA doesn’t ban India after SC intervention. (File)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stripped All India Football Federation President Praful Patel and his executive committee of their administrative responsibilities. Patel, a FIFA council member, had not called for the AIFF elections, despite having completed three four-year terms and not being eligible for standing as president again, as per the National Sports Code.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and PS Narasimha appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) in place of Patel and his committee. The CoA comprises former top court judge AR Dave, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi and Bhaskar Ganguly, former captain of the Indian football team.

The court mandated the CoA to manage the day-to-day affairs of the AIFF, adapt the constitution of the premier Indian footballing body in line with the country’s National Sports Code, and prepare electoral rolls so that an election for the executive committee of the AIFF could be conducted.

“We are of the view that it would be appropriate if the two-member Committee of Administrators which was appointed by the order of this court (Nov 10, 2017), with a specific mandate, is expanded and the mandate of the committee is similarly broadened. The committee of administrators is reconstituted … and shall take charge of all the affairs of the All India Football Federation immediately,” said the court.

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The court also made it clear that while the CoA was in charge of the day-to-day activities of the federation, they could choose to use Patel and his executive committee in a consulting role, but that this was not mandatory.

Background story

Indian football can look at its fractured league structure – one that contributed to more clubs fading into oblivion – and pore over its ever-waning influence in states not named Bengal, Kerala or Goa to assess the mismanagement of football that has taken place over the decades.

But matters really came to a head when the legal logjam over proposed changes in the AIFF constitution – a case stuck in the Supreme Court since 2017 – meant that the election kept getting postponed to the point where Patel remained in power two years past his term. In the 85-year history of the AIFF, elections had never been postponed and the Supreme Court was thus forced to appoint a CoA.

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It didn’t help that at the time of this happening, Patel and the AIFF lost support both internally and externally. Be it Football Delhi, that wrote to FIFA and Asian Football Confederation general secretaries asking for a normalising committee to get involved, or state associations like Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir who were bypassed by the AIFF to hold tournaments and coaching camps in the state – the AIFF continued to bleed internally. Football Delhi president Shaji Prabhakaran, spoke to The Indian Express on how the need of the hour was to move forward now.

“Nothing surprising about the judgement. It was what we were anticipating and conveyed that to the rest of the federations as well. Anyone could see that this was going to happen. We have to now see how to move forward for Indian football because we can’t change what was not done or what could not be done. It was their situation and they did it their way. We have to ensure that we don’t get into this kind of situation again,” said Prabhakaran.

The final nail in the coffin for the Praful Patel regime was slammed in when the sports ministry filled an affidavit with the Supreme Court, stating that Patel had long overstayed his welcome as president and was yet to ensure that elections were held.

FIFA status in limbo

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AIFF’s defence in court on Wednesday was to invoke FIFA and its zero-tolerance policy towards any external management of member associations. There have been instances in the past of FIFA banning countries on account of strife within member associations.

In 2014, Indonesia was banned for a year after its sports ministry and football federation remained at loggerheads over who was running the sport in the country. That ban was lifted in 2016. In 2015, FIFA had banned the Kuwait Football Association because their government had drafted and imposed a sports bill that infringed upon the right of the country’s football federation to exist independently.

The Kuwaiti government was forced to restructure their bill to adhere to FIFA’s constitution as well as the International Olympic Committee’s charter. The ban was lifted after two years, but in that time the country did not receive any grants from the world body and was barred from international competitions for both club and national teams – leading to defender Talal Al-Fadhel stating that an ‘entire generation of footballers was lost’.

Prabhakaran was not sure whether FIFA would see this scenario as a case of interference and propose punishments. “It all depends on how FIFA sees this scenario. They will see how these events are going to have an impact and could possibly stage an intervention or invoke a third party to control the administration,” he said. But he added that the issue required more clarity on the part of FIFA.

Both FIFA and AIFF general secretary Kushal Das were contacted for comment on the situation but had not responded to calls or emails at the time of going to print.

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First published on: 18-05-2022 at 09:03:06 pm
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