The sport that’s helped me make a name is headed worldwide by a man who is into his 13th year as president and recently started a fresh term. Sepp Blatter’s predecessor ruled for 24 years and Joao Havelange, mind you, had dethroned Sir Stanley Rous who too was in charge of Fifa for two decades-plus. So, why do you think I am in favour of a sports bill which, among other things, restricts terms of office of presidents and secretaries?
Simply because, Fifa, despite allegations of corruption, is run more efficiently than sport in India. That means you can’t compare us and them where them also includes the IOC and its tradition of long-serving presidents. The truth is, 64 years after Independence, sport in India is not on the right track. And proof of that lies in the underwhelming international performance of a nation of over 1 billion people.
My point, therefore, is this: the current system of administration has failed and that means there’s something definitely wrong with it. There’s no point saying Brazil’s football isn’t run properly — well, they still win five World Cups and are expected to win one every time it comes along. If we won as many gold as China in Olympics — and they started participating regularly only in 1984 — or even 20 less than them, I’d have been tending to my little children and new club instead of writing this.
Should sports officials have a limited tenure?
Why not restrict federation presidents to a maximum of 12-year terms and secretaries to eight? If you haven’t been able to make a difference in that time, chances are you never will. And if you have been a game-changer, I am sure you will be asked to stay and contribute in some capacity even after your term’s over. Making tenures time-bound is also one way of increasing transparency and accountability because you can’t manipulate votes. Football has a number of examples of former players turning administrators but the ground realities in India are different. I am all for reserving 25% posts for ex-players. It could help administrators get an insight they may otherwise have missed.
I will give two examples here. The first is that matches in the I-League often start at 2pm or 3pm between March and May. Only players know what it is like to go out there and spill blood and guts in hot, humid conditions in Kolkata, Goa or Kerala. In Kolkata, it is made worse by an artificial turf which saps energy faster. A player among decision makers would try to convince administrators to change this.
Also, the I-League automatically bans a player for one match if he accumulates two yellow cards in separate matches. This rule is usually applied for tournaments which have six-10 games and not in leagues which have 26. In the world’s top leagues you will see that suspension sometimes happens only after the fourth booking. But for nearly 20 years of the National League and the I-League, we have been following this two-card rule.
Dispute resolution is another area where the involvement of a former player could help. Usually, they take long to resolve and usually it is the player, often uneducated and unaware of how contracts work, who suffers. For this, Fifa and FIFpro (the international association for professional footballers) work together and in India the FPAI (Football Players’ Association of India) is trying to do that with the AIFF.