The legendary Bhaichung Bhutia on Friday filed his nomination for the president's post in the upcoming AIFF elections but getting through won't be easy for the former footballer as several candidates with political affiliations have also thrown their hats in the ring. (More Football News)
There are ex-footballers turned politicians and politicians who aspire to enter sports administration in the fray along with long-time sports administrator, who want to grab the top job in All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The deadline to file nominations for the post expired on Friday. The much-delayed elections are scheduled for August 28.
Bhutia's name has been proposed by his former national team colleague Deepak Mondal and seconded by "eminent woman player" Madhhu Kumari.
However for him to succeed it is imperative that electoral college is not without former players. As of now FIFA statuettes do not allow their presence. A clear picture will emerge when Supreme court resumes its hearing on the issue on Monday.
Former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey, a BJP leader from West Bengal, who has unsuccessfully fought one general and one state assembly elections, will be the biggest threat to Bhutia.
Chaubey as a footballer is no match to Bhutia but a look at the former custodian's proposer (Gujarat Football Assocciation) and seconder (Arunachal Pradesh) explains the impact his presence could make to the outcome of these elections.
Gujarat is the state of two of India's biggest political leaders (PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah) while Arunachal Pradesh is former sports minister and current Law Minister Kiren Rijiju's home state.
There Ajit Banerjee, who is IFA (West Bengal) president but his primary identity is him being the elder brother to West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee.
He wouldn't have entered the fray had he not had the go-ahead from the party leadership.
The third footballer in the list and youngest candidate is 36-year-old former India midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who is now an MLA. He represents regional heavyweight United Democratic Party in Meghalaya.
Lyngdoh, who played for India alongside Sunil Chhetri, entered active politics when his father passed away and won the election from Mawphlang constituency.
There is NA Haris from Karnataka State Football Association, who is a local Congress MLA and a very active participant in AIFF politics.
There is a second Congress member and a surprise nominee in Rajasthan's Manavendra Singh, who was formerly with BJP.
He has been a member of Parliament in Lok Sabha and also happens to be former defence minister Late Jaswant Singh's son.
There is Valanka Alemao, the only woman candidate and a very influential administrator from Goa with support from Bhutia's state Sikkim and Daman. Valanka happens to be former Goa CM and one of strongmen from the state Churchill Alemao's daughter.
Football Delhi president Shaji Prabhakaran, who has worked in FIFA has also filed the nomination papers for president's post but even he knows that it would be an uphill task to seek votes in case of an election.
Will Bhutia's presence lead to withdrawal of nominations
It is often witnessed that when prominent name emerges, a lot of candidates withdraw their nomination.
While Bhutia has filed his nomination as an "eminent player", the inclusion of which is debatable, he could turn out to be a unifying figure if right-minded people come together to break the impasse.
"I have filed my nominations as representative of eminent players. In the wake of the SC decision to allow players I hope the players can have a chance to serve Indian football. We want to show we can be good not only as players but also as administrators," Bhutia told PTI.
Bhutia had contested the state assembly elections in Bengal for Trinamool Congress and in 2019 formed his own party 'Humro Sikkim'.
Hours before the FIFA ban on AIFF earlier this week the Committee of Administrators (CoA) running football in India had agreed to hold the sports body's elections without giving voting rights to 'eminent' players as per the world body's wish.
Chaubey had been a petitioner in the case to remove Praful Patel for overstaying his tenure and not someone who has filed papers for the heck of it.
"I have got Gujarat and Arunachal backing my nomination and I have been a former player myself," Chaubey, who was a reserve goalkeeper of national team, told PTI.
For Banerjee, the mere mention of his younger sister invoked a sharp response.
"People may say whatever but I've no political connection. For over 50 years I've been serving football and she (Mamata Banerjee) has never interfered," Banerjee told PTI when asked how much active support she will receive from the CM.
"Obviously I've filed the nomination to win and I'm 100 per cent hopeful. I know there are some strong candidates there but I'm hopeful.
"FIFA has clearly mentioned that they would not allow third party intervention. So we will have to abide by their guidelines and go for elections."
The NSF polls are never confined to just sportsmen and sports administrators alone. They always have political colour attached to them.
If the eminent players are allowed, then Bhutia could well be a runaway winner with bulk of 36 votes enough to swing it in his favour.
However if it is only the state units as per FIFA rule, then Chaubey has more than a better chance of pulling it through with blessings from right people.