The upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup is momentous for several reasons. It is not just a platform for football, but can demonstrate that the women’s game has a future in India. Therefore, India should ensure that the objective does not suffer for want of timely remedial steps.
– – –
Why is administration of Indian football in the news?
ON August 22, the Supreme Court terminated the mandate of the Committee of Administrators (‘CoA’) it had appointed to run the All-India Football Federation (‘AIFF’), and directed that the day-to-day management of the AIFF be looked after by its own administration, led by its acting Secretary General.
This is the latest order in the recent controversy surrounding the AIFF, and is a sharp 180 degrees turn from the order the court passed on May 18 in the same matter, in which it had reconstituted the CoA. There is no doubt that the only reason for this recent order is the suspension handed to AIFF by FIFA (Fédération internationale de Football Association, or the International Federation of Association Football), the international governing body of association football, beach football and futsal, on August 16 (more on that later).
What is the on-going litigation against the AIFF in the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court orders dated May 18 and August 22 were passed in a Special Leave Petition filed by the AIFF against an order passed by the Delhi High Court in a Writ Petition brought by eminent sports activist-lawyer Rahul Mehra against various sporting bodies, including AIFF. Simply put, the writ petition sought to clean up the mess in Indian sports administration.
The Delhi high court had, on October 31, 2017, passed an order inter alia giving directions for the manner in which elections of the AIFF were to be conducted.
This led to AIFF approaching the Supreme Court in 2017. On November 10, 2017, the Supreme Court stayed the high court order. Interim directions were also issued appointing civil servant S.Y. Qureshi, who has served as Chief Election Commissioner of India, along with former Indian National Men’s Football team captain Bhaskar Ganguly, as the Committee of Administrators (Ombudsmen). They were to, inter alia, oversee the formulation of the Constitution of the AIFF, which was to be in consonance with the National Sports Code of India, and also to “[ensure] that the status and membership of [the AIFF] is not undermined in any manner in the International Body”.The committee was to file a draft Constitution, and submit the same within eight weeks of the order.
On August 16, FIFA announced its suspension of the AIFF. It cited “undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.” The main and immediate consequence would be that the U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 could no longer take place in India as scheduled.
After a gap of almost five years, the Supreme Court passed its order dated May 18, reconstituting the CoA – with Justice Anil R. Dave, a former Supreme Court judge, added as a third member.
On July 15, the CoA finally submitted its report on the matter, along with a tabulated statement. State Football Associations, FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (‘AFC’ – the governing body of association football, beach soccer, and futsal in some countries/territories in Asia and Oceania) were among the parties that objected to this report, which is recorded in an order dated July 21 passed by the Supreme Court.
The order also records that a delegation of FIFA had visited India, and the CoA had made all efforts to take care of any concerns that it had. It records that the next stage was for the court to hear the objections and finalise the Constitution.
Dr. Menaka Guruswamy, senior counsel appearing for the State Associations, expressed concerns at this stage that the CoA, while finalising the Constitution, had exceeded the remit of the National Sports Code. The court held that this would be an objection that would be considered on the next date of hearing.
The order also records that the delegation sent by FIFA-AFC conveyed during its visit that a democratically elected body should be in position by September 2022 – this is so that the same democratically elected body can inaugurate the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup that was set to take place in India in September 2022.
The court recognised the need to expedite the elections, and directed stakeholders to make a note of their submissions and submit them to the CoA by July 25. The matter was then listed for July 28. On July 28, there was a general consensus that the court should issue specific directions in regard to holding the elections as the finalisation of the Constitution was likely to take some more time.
The CoA proposed a timeline for conducting the elections expeditiously. The court passed an order dated August 3 approving this timeline.
On August 16, FIFA released a statement announcing its suspension of the AIFF. It cited “undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.” (FIFA has previously banned/suspended other national football federations for the same reason). The statement further says that the suspension would be lifted once the mandate of the CoA has been repealed.
The main and immediate consequence of such a suspension would be that the U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 could no longer take place in India as scheduled.
What is the fallout of the ban?
On August 17, the Supreme Court passed an order recording the Solicitor-General of India’s (‘SGI’) submission that the Union Government is in discussions with FIFA in order to facilitate the hosting of the U-17 World Cup as planned. The court impressed upon the government to take a proactive role in the matter so as to facilitate the hosting of the World Cup as well as lifting of the suspension.
With the matter scheduled to be listed on August 22, the government, in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation, filed an application seeking to end the mandate of the CoA. This led to the order dated August 22. It records the immediate impact of the suspension – India no longer being able to host the World Cup, and Indian national teams and clubs being unable to take part in international matches or competitions so long as the suspension continues.
The SGI submitted that FIFA had inter alia the following concerns:
– AIFF administration should be conducted by a duly elected body;
– AIFF’s Constitution should be revised in accordance with the requirements of FIFA and AFC; and
– The election should take place at the earliest and an elected body should exclusively administer the affairs of AIFF.
As per the timeline submitted earlier by the CoA, the election process had reached the stage of nominations. The SGI submitted that due to the proposed changes in the Electoral College for the forthcoming election, the election scheduled for August 28 may be deferred so that fresh nominations may be filed.
On August 22, the Supreme Court terminated the mandate of the CoA. It directed that day-to-day management of AIFF be looked after exclusively by the AIFF administration, led by the Acting Secretary General.
Finally, the court, “bearing in mind the importance of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup 2022”, passed the directions extending the timeline for elections as specified. More importantly, it terminated the mandate of the CoA. It directed that day-to-day management of AIFF be looked after exclusively by the AIFF administration, led by the Acting Secretary General.
What does all this mean, and what lies ahead?
What an embarrassing situation. First, the CoA was appointed way back in 2017. Why was no action taken since then till May this year – when the Supreme Court had to reconstitute the CoA (the reconstitution included merely adding one more person to the Committee). Having gone through the orders passed in the matter, I see no explanation for this delay (barring, perhaps, the one and a half year delay arising from the COVID-19 pandemic).
What is interesting though, is that from 2017 till 2022 – despite no elections taking place – there was no threat of action from FIFA. It was only now that the Supreme Court had intervened, that FIFA decided to take action. For now, one can only wonder what took place in that interim period, with the AIFF essentially functioning without elections for a period of over five years, during which Indian teams continued to participate in tournaments under FIFA’s aegis.
A Contempt Petition was filed earlier this month by the CoA against politician Praful Patel, the former head of the AIFF, under whose leadership, Indian football has hit several lows, and who had to step down as a consequence of the CoA being appointed, alleging that he had been interfering with the administration of justice (the allegations range from him addressing a letter to FIFA nudging it in the direction of the ban, to him conducting meetings with state federations contrary to the orders passed by the Supreme Court).
While the Supreme Court’s attempts at a clean-up job are admirable, the sheer lack of foresight from any of the stakeholders involved is shocking. How did no one realise early enough that this was the road we were heading down, and/or that these were the potential consequences of what was happening?
The CoA was appointed way back in 2017. Why was no action taken since then till May this year – when the Supreme Court had to reconstitute the CoA (the reconstitution included merely adding one more person to the Committee).
Casualty wise, the Women’s team of Gokulam Kerala Football Club – our domestic champions – was the first victim: it has been barred from competing in the AFC Championship as a result of the ban. They were stranded in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and had to return without having played a game. It is downright embarrassing that a meritorious team has to face such ridiculous consequences due to severe maladministration.
The AIFF, in any case, has arguably no reputation domestically, with it being run as shambolically as it has been. This, however, is an embarrassingly new low – with AIFF’s reputation now taking a beating internationally as well.
This saga continues of course, with the suspension yet to be lifted. How soon that may be is yet to be seen – one can only hope that innocent stakeholders, such as Gokulam Kerala F.C., do not suffer any further.
The upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup is momentous for several reasons. It is not just a platform for football in our country – it is also going to serve as a way to display that the women’s game has a future in India. Our administration ought not to jeopardise this any further.