There are many firsts in life we never forget. But the annual general meeting (AGM) of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on December 21, Monday, was the first of an unrepeatable kind: the first time where the president Praful Patel spoke to his members for nearly two hours; the first time members were asked to air opinions individually; and the first time a president’s term was extended even if his tenure was over.
All of this unanimously, of course.
The AIFF has made it look easy. Having spent three terms and 12 years at a stretch as the president of the national federation, Patel was supposed to step down on December 21, 2020, officially his last day in office. But the general body has handed him over a verdict to stay in power till the case in the Supreme Court is settled.
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Sources said Patel, in his speech, which lasted more than 100 minutes, categorically admitted his term was over. He even offered to relinquish the office, but said the current committee should be allowed to continue till the Apex Court takes a decision on the conduct of elections.
In the AIFF’s words: “With the conduct of the AIFF elections currently sub-judice, the AGM unanimously passed a resolution that the present Executive Committee under the leadership of President Mr Praful Patel should continue functioning till the Supreme Court provides a suitable direction for AIFF to hold its elections.”
The AIFF must be patting its back for the way it could manage (or stage-manage?) the show. After all, it wasn’t as easy as they made it look. In the run-up to the AGM, at least 21 state associations had written to the AIFF expressing their desire to hold the elections in time. Their demand was ignored saying their matter was sub-judice.
But the problems didn’t end there. At least 15 associations then shot letters to the AIFF wondering why the AGM was scheduled as a “virtual” meeting. They wanted it to be a “physical” one. This demand too was stonewalled. The current Covid-19 protocols were cited to reject the claim.
The discontentment was very evident and the AIFF bosses knew it. The script therefore was revised to suit the purpose. A state association official, who attended the meeting, summed it up in the best manner.
“The meeting came as a pleasant surprise to many of us. Never before the president addressed the members for such a long time. All these years, the biggest complaint of the states was that they were being ignored.
“They were never taken into confidence before arriving at a major decision. At times, they were even treated with contempt. At this AGM, members were not only addressed, but their opinion was sought too. The change is baffling,” the member said with a wry laugh.
One doesn’t need to be extraordinarily intelligent to understand what actually brought about a shift in gears. The AIFF knows that rules, under normal circumstances, don’t permit Patel to continue in office. The National Sports Code 2011 clearly stops the president of a National Sports Federation (NSF) to stay beyond three terms and 12 years. The AIFF is a signatory to this code. Even the constitution of the federation has a similar clause.
So, on Monday, the script went like this: Patel said he was ready to leave, but was disturbed by the vacuum the lack of a proper committee could create. The legal opinion was read out extensively. It said since the Supreme Court was yet to approve the new constitution it was supposed that elections couldn’t be held.
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Once it was over, the members were asked to give their opinion. Here, many of those, who wrote letters wondering why elections can’t be held, couldn’t muster enough courage to repeat it again. Some members, which included the Goa Football Association president Alemao Churchill, an NCP MLA, said Patel must continue. Finally, senior vice president Subroto Dutta moved a resolution seeking the extension of the committee. It was passed unanimously.
“It is a clear victory for the current committee headed by Patel. A few concessions have been made, which will never be adhered to. All arrangements have been made for this committee to continue with all the power,” said a state association secretary.
The AIFF said: “Mr Patel said that ‘this Executive Committee will not take any major financial or policy decisions during this extended period till the AIFF elections are held.’ In fact, the AIFF Executive Committee has been only taking operational decisions since 2017 -- from the time its Constitution became sub judice.”
“This is complete eyewash”, said the member. “The AIFF has never cared while taking any major financial or policy decision in the last three years. Nobody was consulted even when it moved court seeking directions on extending the mandate of the committee.
“Did the AIFF ask for court’s permission in 2019 while making a major policy decision like reducing the I-League's status as the top league of the country? At the AGM only they spoke about investing around Rs. 40 crore for National Centre of Excellence in Kolkata. Isn’t it a major financial decision? I don’t blame them because football needs to be run smoothly. But to project themselves as caretakers is simply laughable,” he said.
That Patel has complete control over things is evident. The annual financial statements of the AIFF circulated among member associations has some interesting points.
The federation has written off long-pending outstanding advances of at least three state associations aggregating more than Rs. 1 crore as per the approval of the AIFF finance committee. But interestingly, apart from these three, the Western India Football Association (WIFA), headed by Patel, remains the biggest beneficiary.
The statement says: “The federation has written/waived off interest receivable amounting Rs. 56,42,231/- from Western India Football Association relating to year 2013-14 to 2016-17 after getting approval from finance committee meeting dated February 20, 2020.”
What exactly the principal amount is, is not known since the statement has made no mention of it. Interestingly Patel, in his capacity as the WIFA head, had earlier decided not to accept the FIFA approved Covid-19 grant to be distributed among state associations. The grant is of little over Rs. 9 lakh to each of the state associations.
In the AGM, Patel firmly informed the members he had no intention of continuing in office. He would leave the moment the country’s highest court issues a directive on conduct of AIFF elections.
Not everybody was convinced. Not because they have no faith in their president but because they feel it could be a long-drawn legal battle with no one exactly in a hurry. The financial statement of the AIFF said it had spent Rs. 226,19,885/- towards legal and professional expenses for the 2019-20 financial year. The amount was 173,59,810/- for the previous financial year.
The AIFF has every right to fight it out in the court of law till it receives a verdict that suits them. The state associations, who wanted elections and a new committee in place, will have to wait.
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