mef Estonia hadn’t conceded five goals to Lionel Messi this month, legendary Indian striker Sunil Chhetri would be second behind Cristiano Ronaldo on the list of top active international goalscorers. The 37-year-old has 84, two behind the Argentine, after scoring four in the just-concluded third round of qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup.
That loot helped India win all three games and walk to a second straight appearance at the continent’s biggest event. However, Chhetri is a little worried that she won’t be able to participate in the tournament, and not because there is currently no host after China relinquished those duties last month. The concern is that India could be affected by a FIFA ban.
“I hope that everything goes well for the sport and that the country is not sanctioned,” Chhetri said this month. “The sanction will be catastrophic not only for the entire country, but also for me, because I am 37 years old. You never know when the last game will be for you.” After the captain said the piece about him, national team coach Igor Stimac told those running the game in the country of 1.4 billion to “wake up”.
Although the national team is becoming a regular in continental competition, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been in crisis. Praful Patel replaced Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who had been in charge since 1988 but ended her bedridden tenure, as president in 2008. The rise of Patel, a member of the FIFA Council and vice president of the Asian Football Confederation, in the world of football has been softer than that of India. During his tenure, the fortunes of the various national teams have fluctuated, facilities have improved, but the domestic game is in constant flux due to restructuring, and the signing of a 15-year commercial contract with Reliance by the AIFF in 2010 is still a controversial topic.
In March, the Sports Ministry delivered its verdict, cutting the federation’s funding by 85% for 2022-23 compared to the 2019-20 figure, with reports suggesting it was due to the poor performance of the national team, disappointment at the performances of various age sides and concerns about women’s football. The AIFF was advised to focus on the grassroots. The supreme court was told to resolve the federation’s electoral situation.
This spelled the end of Patel’s term. His third term, the maximum allowed, ended in December 2020 but a new election was not held, in which he could not run (according to Patel there was a constitutional issue that had to be resolved first) and he stayed in place. The court appointed a three-man committee of administrators (CoA) to take charge. Originally, new elections were expected to be held at the end of June. Now the talk is September.
FIFA may have something to say about that. Other Asian nations, such as Kuwait and Indonesia, have been hit with bans in recent years for what the governing body deemed government interference in the running of the federation. Officials will visit India on Monday to see what has been going on. “I don’t think FIFA will oppose this development,” said Dr. SY Quraishi, one of the three administrators. “The soccer elections had been delayed a lot, the old team had stayed after his mandate and the elections were necessary. I don’t see a breach issue with FIFA here. We hope FIFA understands and cooperates, and we will cooperate with them as we try to finish this task given to us by the court.”
In 2018, Pakistan’s supreme court ordered football federation elections which were won by Ashfaq Hussain. His victory was never recognized by FIFA and he led a group that stormed the Pakistan federation’s headquarters in Lahore in March 2021, expelling the FIFA normalization committee. The chaos remains, as does the ban. India is different from Pakistan, which is a country that loves the game but has almost fallen off the radar of Asian football with interested leaders and a team that has played seven games in seven years and none since 2019. FIFA has given a lot plus. attention to India, with Gianni Infantino, like before Sepp Blatter, a regular visitor to New Delhi, and it has meant more investment.
The country hosted the 2017 U-17 Men’s World Cup and will do the same for the women in October. The 2022 Women’s Asian Cup was held in January and despite a bit of an embarrassing start when the host team had to withdraw after covid burst their bubble, it went pretty well in the end and the final, with China beating to South Korea, it was exciting. India has put itself forward as a candidate to host the 2027 men’s Asian Cup, the continent’s biggest football competition. Hosting that tournament at some point is seen as a necessary step on the road to the World Cup coming to the subcontinent.
Recent events are a blow to India’s prestige, but they would be nothing compared to a FIFA ban. Such an outcome is unlikely, but no one wants the situation to drag on. With major reforms in domestic competitions and a decision on the venue for the 2027 Asian Cup coming soon, now is the time for those in charge to do what Coach Stimac says and “wake up”, otherwise the only winner in the entire situation could be to be Lionel Messi.