Power play: On lifting of suspension by FIFA

The lifting of the suspension by the FIFA is only a temporary end to the problems of the AIFF

August 30, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 01:56 pm IST

The Beautiful Game, as legend Pele described football, and the world’s second most populous nation India, have a complicated link. There was a brief history when India played football in the Olympics and currently the European Leagues remain a top draw on television. Yet, India ranks 104th in the FIFA points table and to rub salt into its festering wounds, its parent body, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), suffered the ignominy of being banned on August 15, a day when the country celebrated 75 years of Independence. FIFA had cited ‘third-party interference’ as the reason for the punitive measure. The ‘third-party’ was a euphemism for the Supreme Court mandated Committee of Administrators (CoA) given the task of cleaning up the AIFF after the previous administration led by president Praful Patel, also a politician, went past the 12-year tenure mandated by the National Sports Development Code. Immediate concern centred around India’s right to host the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in October. In the subsequent flurry of developments involving the Sports Ministry and the Court, the latter returned power to the AIFF’s acting general-secretary Sunando Dhar and his committee, which allayed FIFA’s reservations against the now defunct CoA. And it was no surprise when the world’s football governing body lifted the suspension over India on Friday. But this is not all’s well that ends well.

Even if India’s 11 days of limbo in the football wilderness is over, the collateral damage involved Gokulam Kerala FC being unable to play in the AFC Women’s Club Championship in Uzbekistan. That the AIFF, CoA and the Sports Ministry were sluggish in their responses to the initial threat of a ban reflects poorly on them. It is a fact that both the Government and the courts revealed an urgency only after FIFA implemented the ban. This sordid turn of events is also a pointer to the duality across Indian sport, be it ones with commercial heft such as cricket or other segments that need support. Athletes largely punch above their weight while the administrative side is often caught up with dissidence and legal battles. Sport also unites politicians across the spectrum and this is a case of birds of different feathers flocking together. In the early days, sports associations fielded politicians as it helped them cut through governmental red tape. Meanwhile, politicians enjoyed sport’s soft power and stretched their tenures. To complicate issues, not every athlete-turned-administrator put sport above themselves. There have been instances too of the palliative balm not being ideal as court-appointed mediators often turned out to be bureaucrats enamoured of star players while being churlish in clearing payments. As for the AIFF, its September 2 elections should ideally reveal a fresh path.

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