IHad Estonia not conceded five goals against Lionel Messi this month, India’s legendary striker Sunil Chhetri would have been second in the list of international top scorers behind Cristiano Ronaldo. The 37-year-old has 84, two behind the Argentine after scoring four goals in the just-concluded third qualifying round for the 2023 Asian Cup.
That haul helped India win all three matches and take part in the continent’s biggest event for the second year in a row. However, Chhetri is a little worried he might not be able to take part in the tournament – and not because there is currently no host after China gave up those duties last month. The concern is that India could be hit by a Fifa ban.
“I hope everything goes well for the sport and the country doesn’t get a ban,” Chhetri said this month. “The ban will not only be disastrous for the whole country but also for me because I’m 37. You never know when the last game is for you.” After the captain made his contribution, the national team coach demanded, Igor Stimac urges those running the game in the country of 1.4 billion to “wake up.”
Despite the national team becoming regulars in continental competitions, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was in turmoil. Praful Patel replaced Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who had been in office since 1988 but ended his term bedridden, in 2008 as president smoother than in India. During his tenure, the fortunes of various national teams have fluctuated, facilities have been improved, but domestic football is in flux due to restructuring and the signing of a 15-year commercial deal with Reliance in 2010 is still a controversial issue.
In March, the Department of Sport issued its ruling, cutting the federation’s funding for 2022-23 by 85% compared to 2019-20. This was reportedly due to the poor performance of the national team and disappointment with the performances of different age groups and concerns about women’s football. The AIFF was advised to focus on the grassroots. The Supreme Court was ordered to clarify the association’s electoral situation.
This spelled the end of Patel’s tenure. His third term, the maximum allowable, ended in December 2020, but a snap election in which he was unable to run was not held (Patel said there was a constitutional issue that needed to be resolved first) and he remained seated. The court appointed a three-member Administrative Committee (CoA) to lead. It had originally been hoped that new elections could be held by the end of June. Now we’re talking about September.
FIFA can say something about that. Other Asian nations like Kuwait and Indonesia have been hit with bans in recent years over government interference in the running of the federation. Officials are visiting India on Monday to check what is going on. “I don’t think Fifa would object to this development,” said Dr. SY Quraishi, one of the three administrators. “Football elections were long overdue, the former team had stayed past their term and new elections were needed. I don’t see any noncompliance problem with Fifa here. We hope Fifa understands this and cooperates, and we will work with them as we try to carry out this task given to us by the court.”
In 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered football association elections, which were won by Ashfaq Hussain. His victory was never recognized by Fifa and he led a group that stormed the Pakistan FA’s headquarters in Lahore in March 2021, throwing out Fifa’s normalization committee. The chaos remains, as does the ban. India is different from Pakistan, a country that loves football but has almost fallen off the Asian football radar with self-serving leaders and a national team that has played seven games in seven years and none since 2019. Fifa has given much more attention to India, with Gianni Infantino, like Sepp Blatter before him, a regular visitor to New Delhi, and it has attracted more investment.
The country hosted the men’s U17 World Cup in 2017 and will do the same for the women in October. The 2022 Asian Women’s Cup took place in January and despite a somewhat awkward start when the hosts were forced to withdraw after Covid burst their bubble, things ended up going pretty well and the final, in which China ousted South Korea, was one Thriller. India has bid to host the men’s Asian Cup 2027, the continent’s biggest soccer competition. Hosting this tournament at some point is seen as a necessary step towards the World Cup on the subcontinent.
Recent events are a blow to India’s reputation but nothing compared to a Fifa ban. Such an outcome is unlikely, but nobody wants the situation to drag on. With major reforms taking place in domestic competitions and a decision on the venue of the 2027 Asian Cup looming soon, now is the time for those in power to do as coach Stimac says and ‘wake up’, otherwise the only winner could be in being good about the whole situation being Lionel Messi.