Indian football: The AIFF has become a den of chaos, confusion and controversies

While talking about how a wide range of participants in his organisation worked together to sustain the bio-bubble during the height of a Covid-19 wave in India to make the country's top league successful, Patel claimed the AIFF had become a role model.

The federation boss was quoted as saying: "The fact that we were able to sustain the bubble for over four months at a stretch while dealing with various stakeholders speaks about AIFF's organisational structure, and it has already become a role model and a case study."

Did anyone expect the bubble to burst so soon? And virtually at every front?

While looking at what the AIFF supremo had to say about the national federation around 14 months ago, one feels a sudden sense of despair. The situation today is a complete contradiction of what Patel said - in fact, it's rather the other way round. To say the AIFF is in a total mess and chaos reigns wherever it lays its hands won't be considered an exaggeration.

The year 2022 was expected to be a new dawn in Covid-free India in every aspect. Football was no exception, but it didn't go the way it was hoped. Starting with the high-profile Asian Women's Championships, where the Indian team failed to play beyond their opener against Iran because of more than a dozen Covid-19 cases in the squad, the AIFF has failed administratively, constitutionally and even morally at every front.

A veteran member of the AIFF summed up things in a few lines. "The government spent considerable amount of taxpayers' money for preparations of the women's team and the Asian championships. As a federation, we failed completely as the bio-bubble in our team hotel was breached. Nobody was held responsible for this serious offence and we made naive attempts to blame the Asian body.

"We expected the government to help us out, but we disobeyed the national sports code time and again and showed no intention of following rules. Our elections are due for 14 months now, but we keep on delaying them on some flimsy legal excuses. We are looking stupid in the eyes of the sporting world."

The member summed up things well, but he, too, missed a few crucial points. In the annual general meeting of the AIFF in Mumbai in February, the president of the Karnataka State Football Association NA Haris echoed the member's concern and said the absence of a duly elected committee has made the federation a complete laughing stock.

But the fact remains that the AIFF now is more than just a laughing stock - in the eyes of the government, it is a body with poor performance; a body that doesn't comply with government rules; a body that stands on the verge of being derecognised.

The latest blow has come in the form of the union sports ministry's rude rebuff when AIFF asked for funds for the new financial year. According to a report in The Indian Express, the government funding of football has been slashed by 85 percent of what it was in the last four years; the federation reportedly asked for Rs. 50 crores, while the ministry settled for only Rs. five crores under the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition scheme.

The sports ministry reportedly noted: "Considering the poor performance of the Indian football team, AIFF was advised to strictly focus on the development of grassroot-level talent."

From "role model", the AIFF has turned into a body of "poor performance" in a year's time.

To those, who follow Indian football closely, the sports ministry decision didn't come as a surprise. Insiders claim funds from the government had dried up even before this decision - that's one of the reasons why the federation had been found approaching state governments and private organisations in the recent past for training and preparatory camps of different national teams.

And whatever the ministry may be saying officially, performance, perhaps, is not the sole cause for its tough stand on funds. The government seems convinced that Patel and his present committee are unlawful occupants of the football federation.

On April 8, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, in relation to the Special Leave Petition filed by Rahul Mehra against the AIFF, in which the Union of India is a respondent, the sports ministry confirmed that the AIFF president Praful Patel and his committee has no mandate to hold on to their offices.

The ministry further said: "It is submitted that as the term of the existing committee (of the AIFF) is already over, and the existing president (Patel) has completed more than 12 years as president, the Petitioner (AIFF) should hold elections without further delay as per extant instructions contained under Sports Code and the instructions issued by the Answering Respondent (sports ministry) from time to time."

The sports ministry didn't stop here. It said: "As the last elections held by the petitioner was on 21.12.2016, as such the Petitioner is required to conduct fresh elections. While recently the Answering Respondent renewed the Petitioner's annual recognition for a year with effect from 23.10.2020, such recognition is subject to the outcome of the special leave petition pending before this honourable court."

Now the question is: What's the reason behind creating such a meaningless and easily avoidable mess? Why did the AIFF, for the first time in its 85-year-old history, fail to hold its elections in time? The answer, according to many insiders, is unanimously one: government rules blatantly flouted, the AIFF constitution unashamedly ignored and all conventions are crudely thrown into the wastepaper basket to achieve a solitary purpose - to keep Praful Patel in his chair beyond his three terms and 12 years as permitted by the national sports code.

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