All India Football Federation (AIFF) meetings are usually one-sided affairs. They boil down to monologues and normally become cakewalks for Praful Patel, who has seldom been challenged in his more than 12 years as AIFF boss. On Saturday in Mumbai, it was a different story. (More Football News)
For the first time in years, Patel faced 'opposition', as some states wanted to know why the AIFF has not been holding elections which were due in December 2020.
But what brought shame to the AIFF boss was general secretary Kushal Das opting to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in virtual mode, despite staying in the same five-star Mumbai hotel where Patel was chairing the AGM.
Several members who attended the AGM told Outlook on Sunday that Das was allegedly 'not in a position to attend the meeting in person.' They wanted Patel to sack Das "for bringing disrepute to AIFF family."
"The AIFF general secretary was seemingly drunk and an embarrassed Mr Patel had to stop him a few times because Kushal Das was not in a position to speak. Patel tried a lot to cover up for Das ... it's all on record," said a senior official, who attended the AGM.
"I was feeling some (COVID) symptoms and thought it prudent to attend virtually. Tested negative now ... I conducted the meeting virtually," Kushal Das told Outlook.
While most senior AIFF functionaries were scheduled to attend Sunday's AFC Women's Asian Cup final between China and Korea in Mumbai, Das returned to Delhi. A former International Cricket Committee (ICC) official, Das has been in AIFF since October 2010.
NO BIG DEAL
Indian football, despite having a jazzy league (ISL) run by the Reliance group, has hardly been anything to write about. India's poor FIFA ranking (104 as of December 2021) is a tell-tale statement of the national team's calibre.
The Union sports ministry doesn't consider football as a priority sport and only a few states and private clubs play the game seriously. Such a situation suits the AIFF management. It is very easy to shut out the few voices, who seek a professional, transparent and well-managed system.
Most state association members who attend AIFF meetings are happy with the perks that the federation doles out - star accommodation, air travel, food, drinks and allowances. Most of them are happy to raise their hands and sign off on whatever Patel and Co say, never raising a question.
Today, the progressive football states like Mizoram, Meghalaya and Manipur are struggling to grab the spotlight since they can't afford to play the ISL. Kerala's Gokulam may be I-League champions but not sure if they will ever play the ISL, currently a closed league with no relegation or promotion.
BEATING THE LAW
Discontent within AIFF has been simmering for years but Praful Patel and his team have successfully managed to dominate. Patel's three terms of four years each ended in December 2020.
In April 2019, Patel even found a berth in the FIFA Council. But his reluctance to pass the baton and create an artificial leadership vacuum has not amused FIFA.
Recently, host India's withdrawal from the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 has left questions about AIFF's ability to host international tournaments. Blaming AFC for the heart-breaking exit from the Women's Asian Cup may come back to hurt India when international tournaments are awarded by FIFA or AFC in future.
And now there is dissent at home and some state members say Patel can't be hiding behind "legal jugglery" forever. The AIFF has filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying since its constitution has been suspended, the current management should be allowed to continue till a new rule book is in place.
That new constitution, which was to be drafted as per the National Sports Code by former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, has been pending for four years.
PAY TO DELAY?
"It's been the AIFF strategy to delay things. Every time there is a hearing in court, the federation lawyer wants more time. The AIFF is obviously exploiting its political connections very well," said a senior member in the know of things. The AIFF spends Rs 3 crores every year on legal fees. Most of it goes to enable Patel's team to continue smoothly.
In January 2021, ex-Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde, reacting to a petition filed by former international footballer Kalyan Chaubey, wanted elections to happen, but the AIFF has been able to successfully scuttle it.
The AIFF has formed a three-member committee to explore legal options and hold the long-pending elections. It now remains to be seen how independently and ethically this committee works.