The women from Gokulam Kerala played a game of football with the boys from an Uzbekistan club, Phoenix, at Tashkent on Sunday. That friendly wasn’t on the itinerary when the Gokulam players boarded the flight from the Calicut International Airport here on August 15.
They had travelled to Uzbekistan to play at the AFC Asian Women’s Club championship and their first match was scheduled to be played on August 23, against Sogdiana. Only after they reached Tashkent did they come to know that they had been disqualified from the tournament as a result of FIFA’s ban of the AIFF ‘for undue influence from third parties.’
FIFA not pleased
After the AIFF president Praful Patel’s tenure was found to have violated the National Sports Code, the Supreme Court had appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the game in the country. Among the CoA’s recommendations was that 50% of the AIFF’s electoral college should comprise players. FIFA wasn’t happy with that proposal and felt the AIFF’s members should not be undermined.
As soon as the Gokulam management came to know of its disqualification — the Asian Football Confederation had sent a letter to the AIFF — it sought intervention from the Prime Minister and Sports Ministry, which wrote to FIFA and the AFC. On Saturday it was confirmed that Gokulam could not play.
The players were understandably shattered. They had trained for two months and the management had made fresh recruitments too, after the CEO and the president travelled to Ghana in search of quality players.
Their anguish found expression in Gokulam’s statement which spoke of the dreams of 23 innocent women getting shattered. The release further said: “Never ever should this happen to any club or any athlete...”
India’s sports administrators — not just those associated with football — should do well to listen to the plea from Gokulam. Mind you, the AIFF isn’t the country’s only sports federation that has caught the court’s attention. Gokulam’s plight could easily have been averted, if the AIFF had complied with the Sports Code.
The Supreme Court’s next hearing on the AIFF case is scheduled for Monday and before long the issue is likely to be resolved. FIFA might then lift the ban, and who knows Mohun Bagan would very well then be able to play its AFC Cup match on September 7.
Damage can’t be undone
The damage done to Gokulam cannot be undone, however. It will remain one of the most spectacular own goals scored by the Indian sports administration.