Will ask Fifa to let football continue, says former AIFF president
Praful Patel says he and the executive committee did nothing wrong by continuing after December 2020
Removed by a Supreme Court order, which has appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA), Praful Patel, former president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), said he would request Fifa president Gianni Infantino and secretary-general Fatma Samoura to not ban India for third party interference. That is a possibility because the CoA has been asked to run AIFF by the apex court.
“I will call them tomorrow and request for leeway. It will be my personal pitch that ‘please try to give India two months to hold elections and continue with the game’,” said Patel during an interaction over Zoom with select journalists on Sunday. Patel is a member of the Fifa Council, the main decision-making body of the world body.
Should Fifa derecognise AIFF–Patel said a decision could be known this week–next month’s Asian Cup qualifiers, the under-17 women’s World Cup in October and all international football for club and country will stop. “Please do not undermine Fifa’s strength to sometimes take radical decisions,” said Patel, after pointing out that football’s world body is “systems driven” and in 2017 had threatened to ban former world champions Spain.
“Lawyers (representing AIFF) had pointed out all possible scenarios to the honourable court,” he said.
Patel also said should his advice be sought, he would tell the CoA to hold elections at the earliest. “Dragging this issue will be disastrous. In BCCI, we saw years and years of CoA running the show.”
According to the Supreme Court’s order, objections or suggestions on the new AIFF constitution should be placed by June 30 and be tabulated by July 15. The CoA, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge Anil R Dave, has also been asked to prepare electoral rolls. The order states that elections should be conducted “expeditiously after the Constitution is finalised.”
In charge of AIFF since December 2008, Patel said his team has laid the “foundations for Indian football” and would be available to help. If there is one “regret” it is that a “nice transition” to new office-bearers was not possible on his watch. Patel said he had “never envisaged this situation would arise” and that he had hoped the Supreme Court would ask for elections in two months. “AIFF would have argued for that.” The executive committee would have continued till the elections and the possibility of a Fifa ban wouldn’t need to be discussed, he said.
Patel quoted from the judgement to explain why AIFF’s executive committee continued after December 2020 when its term had ended with him not eligible for re-election, having served three four-year terms. “The consequence of the order of the stay is that despite the expiry of its four-year term, the Executive Committee has continued to govern the affairs of the Federation,” he said, quoting the court order issued last week. That means, he said, the office-bearers continued because of a 2017 Supreme Court order staying a Delhi High Court order that had set aside the elections of 2016.
“Assuming we had resigned in December 2020, whom would we have handed over the governance of AIFF to? Responsible people need to behave responsibly even if it attracts criticism,” he said. Patel said AIFF petitioned Supreme Court in November 2020, one month before the elections, because it had been waiting to hear from the apex court on SY Quraishi’s application seeking more time to draft the new constitution. Quraishi has said the draft constitution had been submitted in January 2020. AIFF maintains it has not heard from the top court.
The constitution was supposed to be submitted in eight weeks following the Supreme Court appointing Quraishi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly in November 2017. “Had that been submitted even in 40 weeks, things would have been different…If Supreme Court had given us a direction in 2020 it would have been different,” said Patel.
Quraishi and Ganguly are members of the CoA.
Terming himself a careful man, Patel said AIFF had sought legal advice and was told holding elections while the new constitution was being drafted would tantamount to contempt of court. He said there was no way AIFF could have expedited adopting the new constitution. “It wasn’t my fault that the Supreme Court couldn’t give dates for our application. Maybe it was not high on their list of priorities. Of course, Covid contributed to the backlog,” he said.
To the charge that he had held on because he wanted another four-year term at the Fifa Council, Patel said while being elected to the council was an “honour for India”, he had been an MP and would be filing for a Rajya Sabha nomination this month.
“In my time as president, Praful Patel has never charged anything to AIFF,” he said. Also in his time, the federation has been governed following the highest standards of “ethics in finance and corporate governance” and run “democratically and transparently.”
Irrespective of who takes charge, Patel said the pathway agreed for club football including 2022-23 I-League champions qualifying for Indian Super League would be followed. HT had reported on this on May 12. “All of this is documented. There was resistance from our partners (FSDL, the company that runs ISL) but I told them we can’t have a closed league forever.”