As India celebrated its 76th Independence Day on August 15, the same day, football’s world governing body FIFA (International Federation of Football Association) suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with immediate effect “due to undue influence from third parties”.
For the first time since AIFF was formed in 1937, the Indian football body has faced suspension from FIFA.
What FIFA said
In a press release, FIFA said, “The Bureau of the FIFA Council has unanimously decided to suspend the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with immediate effect due to undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF Executive Committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs.
“The suspension means that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, scheduled to take place in India on 11-30 October 2022, cannot currently be held in India as planned. FIFA is assessing the next steps with regard to the tournament and will refer the matter to the Bureau of the Council if and when necessary. FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved.”
Also read: Centre seeks urgent hearing of AIFF case after FIFA suspends India
Why FIFA banned AIFF
As per FIFA’s statutes, each country’s football federation has “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties”.
If there is “third party” influence, then, as per FIFA, “may also lead to sanctions, even if the third-party influence was not the fault of the member association concerned. Each member association is responsible towards FIFA for any and all acts of the members of their bodies caused by the gross negligence or wilful misconduct of such members”.
AIFF’s troubles began when its then President and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel refused to quit even after his term had ended in December 2020. As per the National Sports Federation (NSF) Sports Code, a person is allowed a maximum of three terms at the helm and Patel has completed it, being 12 years as AIFF President.
After Patel, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, did not relinquish his post, the matter went to the Supreme Court, which on May 18 this year, removed Patel and appointed a three-member a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the AIFF.
The CoA is comprised of Justice (retired) Anil R Dave, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr. SY Quraishi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly.
On July 15, the CoA framed the draft constitution and submitted to the Supreme Court for its approval.
The appointment of CoA was where it all started to go wrong for AIFF and eventually led to the ban from FIFA. According to FIFA, CoA coming in to run the AIFF was clear case of “third party” interference.
What Patel said after SC decision
Reacting to SC’s order to appoint a CoA, Patel had said on May 20, “I thank the Honourable Supreme Court for bringing finality to a long pending issue since 2017. The term of the elected committee expired in December 2020, and we had in November 2020 suo moto approached the Honourable Supreme Court for an early resolution of the matter, and appropriate directions. The AIFF constitution broadly follows the sports code 2011 for age and tenure limits, and therefore I was in any way going to step down from office, and neither was I eligible for re-election.”
He added, “I wish the Committee of administrators all the very best, and request them to fulfil their responsibilities of providing a new Constitution compliant with the National Sports Code which we are already broadly complying with, while keeping in mind AFC and FIFA statutes. A speedy resolution, and a newly elected body will serve in the best interest of Indian Football.”
What does FIFA’s Article 19 Statute say
“Article 19 Independence of member associations and their bodies” states that “Each member association shall manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties. A member association’s bodies shall be either elected or appointed in that association. A member association’s statutes shall provide for a democratic procedure that guarantees the complete independence of the election or appointment.”
CoA’s reaction to ban
The CoA said it was “surprised” that the FIFA’s ban came when extensive discussions were going on for the past few days between all stakeholders, including FIFA-AFC, AIFF, CoA, and the Sports Ministry as per the Order of the Supreme Court.
“While the CoA was committed to implement the Supreme Court’s Order regarding the elections of the AIFF, passed on August 3, it was also in constant dialogue with all stakeholders. In the discussions held among the FIFA-AFC, AIFF, CoA, and the Sports Ministry in the past few days, it was suggested that the present elections of the AIFF Executive Committee may be conducted with the Electoral College consisting of 36 state representatives,” it added.
Further, it said, “It was also suggested by FIFA through the Sports Ministry that the EC may consist of 23 members, including six eminent players. The 17 members (inclusive of the President, a Secretary General, a Treasurer, one Vice President, and one Joint Secretary) will be elected by the above electoral college. Out of the six eminent players, four will be men, and two women. The eminent players may be nominated (co-opted) in the EC and shall have the voting rights, thus making it above 25 percent of the EC.”
CoA chairman Justice (retd.) Anil Dave said, “It is unfortunate to see such a directive by FIFA during a time when all efforts were being made to put Indian Football back on the right track. That being said, we are constantly in talks with all the stakeholders, including FIFA, to find the correct solution to this situation, and get the ball rolling once again.
“It is really deplorable that for almost last two years, the body, whose term had already been completed, had continued in an absolutely undemocratic and illegal manner, no action was taken. But when the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed an order to set things right so as to see that a democratically elected body takes charge, and when the CoA and the Sports Ministry were doing their best for the implementation of the Order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the order of the suspension was passed by FIFA.”
What does the ban mean to AIFF/India?
According to FIFA, “A suspended member association may not exercise any of its membership rights. Other member associations may not entertain sporting contact with a suspended member association. The Disciplinary Committee may impose further sanctions.”
With this suspension, India has been stripped of the rights to host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, scheduled to take place from 11-30 October.
Also, Indian teams, both men and women across all age groups cannot play international matches.
“The AIFF representative and club teams are therefore no longer entitled to take part in international competitions until the suspension is lifted. This also means that neither the AIFF nor any of its members or officials may benefit from any development programmes, courses or training from FIFA and/or the AFC,” FIFA said.
What Chhetri said
In June, India’s football team captain Sunil Chhetri said a ban would be “catastrophic” for India and for him.
“No matter what is happening on that front, I hope it is under control and the country does not get a ban. Because, that will be catastrophic, not just for the whole country but for me, because I’m 37. I’m playing my last games. You never know when there’s a last game for you,” Chhetri said.
On August 14, a day before the ban, he said, “I’ve spoken to the boys and my advice is to not give it too much attention because it is out of your control.”
Countries banned by FIFA
India is not the first country to face FIFA sanctions. Previously, FIFA has suspended Pakistan (two times), Zimbabwe, Kenya, Chad, Iraq, Brunei, Indonesia, Nigeria, Guatemala, Kuwait, and Benin. The bans, however in some cases, were lifted later.
How AIFF’s ban can be lifted
For India’s suspension to be revoked, FIFA has asked for the repeal of the CoA mandate in full and for the AIFF administration to be fully in charge of the AIFF’s daily affairs.
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF Executive Committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs,” FIFA said.
FIFA’s letter to member associations
In a letter to fellow member associations, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote, “We would remind you and your affiliates not to enter into any sporting contact with the AIFF and/or its teams while the AIFF is suspended.”
On Wednesday (August 17), the Supreme Court deferred till August 22 hearing on the AIFF matter after the Centre said it is in discussion with FIFA over holding the U-17 Women’s World Cup in India.
The court also asked the Centre to take proactive steps to hold the world cup in India and lift the suspension of AIFF.