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AIFF President Holds “Informal” Meet with Members; Vaccination, Relegation the Major Talking Point

Jaydeep Basu |
Since the term of the president, Praful Patel, ended in December 2020, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) could not hold a formal general body meeting. Members who we spoke to after the meet said they wanted to see more planning and due importance given to national championships (Santosh Trophy) and competitions for women in the upcoming calendars.
AIFF Praful Patel meeting

The validity of the meeting convened by Praful Patel aside, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) went ahead deliberating on some policy decisions.

The vaccination drive against Covid-19 has become a huge issue in India over the past few months. The shortage doses, fluctuating prices and sheer lack of planning have left citizens scrambling for the vaccine across the country. There, however, is exciting news on the football front. All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said he would write to the governments of every state in order to get the senior footballers of the respective states vaccinated on a priority basis. 

“I plan to write to the heads of the governments of every state to give priority vaccinations to all the senior players,” said Patel during what the AIFF called an “informal” meeting with state associations.

This will help us resume footballing activities a little earlier than usual, once the situation becomes more stable,” Patel added. The virtual meeting was called “informal” more out of compulsion than choice. Patel, and his committee, completed their four-year term in December 2020 and are not legally in a position to call a general meeting. Members, however, were happy to note Patel’s interest in having footballers free of Covid-19 though some of them felt the basic purpose behind early vaccinations could stand defeated.

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A member present in the meeting later said: “Good to know the senior footballers could be vaccinated early. But what for? Ever since the start of the pandemic, the federation hasn’t hosted even one national championship, for men and women, for seniors, juniors or sub juniors. The call to resume activities early is basically hollow one. They spent crores to host the I-League but simply didn’t care about holding the national championships for close to two years.”

In the meeting, at least four state associations pleaded with the federation bosses to resume the Santosh Trophy as soon as possible. They pointed out that not holding the Nationals is a major setback for footballers in different states, who hope to enhance their careers through these meets.

“We fully understand the pandemic is a huge hindrance to normal activities. But if we have to live with it for such a long time, then we have to resume our normal activities, too. Hosting of ISL and I-League alone won’t take the game forward,” a member said later. The AIFF chief told members he would look at the matter. Members were left wondering whether the assurance was actually a formal or informal one. 

The validity of the meeting aside, the federation went ahead deliberating on some policy decisions. The technical director of the AIFF, Isac Doru made a presentation that actually suggested relegation in the just-concluded I-League should be halted in view of the prevailing pandemic. No decision was taken on the issue. It was decided that the matter be referred to the executive committee via the league committee. The intent of the bosses were clear though. They would like to see this year’s I-League bottom team, Neroca FC, remain in the competition when the new season begins. We will be discussing the pros and cons of a moratorium on relegation, as it relates to Neroca FC, in a follow-up article. 

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For now, though, a member who was present in the meeting summed up the discussion to this correspondent: “(It is a) Pity we spent so much time discussing relegation of a particular club. We heard the club wrote to AIFF requesting non-relegation, but we were not informed about it. Never before has the federation asked the general members of their opinion on change of I-League rules. It is now the second season the senior, junior and sub-junior Nationals have not been held. In a year’s time, two international women’s meets (the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and the FIFA Under 17 Women’s World Cup) are lined up in India. No effort has been made to revive the domestic women’s tournament. How long are we going to hide behind the excuse of the pandemic? At least, some planning should be visible.” 

A sense of ad-hocism seems to have engulfed the AIFF off late. It is a body, which doesn’t have the mandate and is run on the strength of legal jugglery. The sole motive, many suspect, is to stay in power. Issues like relegation and vaccination are only part of the road show.

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