Since the completion of the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL), the fear of corrupt practices has raised the need for intense vigilance. In its wake, the Federation Cup, currently being played in Goa, has become the first domestic football competition after the ISL to come under scrutiny.
In October, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) appointed former CBI officer Javed Siraj as an integrity officer whose sole purpose is to prevent any untoward incident.
Siraj has implemented a number of directives and restrictions on players, a hitherto non-existent component in Indian football: No mobile phones for players on match days, no meetings in hotel rooms; even the referees are booked into hotels under the AIFF's name.
"The referees are sensitive targets. In a bid to protect them, all referees are booked in hotel rooms under the name of AIFF and not under their name," Siraj told HT. "They are assigned officiating duties for a match only on the day of the match."
Players too have strict rules prescribed for them. Contact with the press is also restricted and the presence of the team coach is prescribed. According to a player who did wish to be named, requests for personal guests too have been denied by overzealous team officials.
"This is the first season that such rules have been put in place. Most team officials do not comprehend them well and have adhered to them strictly," the player said.
However, according to Siraj, the threat is real as the glamour of the ISL could attract negative interest.
"Obviously, the Federation Cup is not as high profile as the ISL. But the fact that most of these players will end up playing in the ISL makes it imperative that we maintain vigil throughout the season," Siraj said.
No player is allowed to speak to people outside their squad without intimating the team manager. The manager in his part is directed to maintain a log and share it with Siraj.
"I have held talks with most of the teams. We have begun with emphasis on education. During the ISL, we were given reports of suspicious approaches made to players. However they were not of a serious nature," Siraj said.
"So far, the Federation Cup has been normal. I also receive inputs from Fifa's Early Warning System team and Sports Radar which is affiliated to the Asian Football Council. These two groups monitor betting patterns and send us periodic reports," he added.