FIFA, the world football governing body, banning the All India Football Federation is akin to a player getting sent off the field by being shown a red card for a foul. The embarrassment in the global football community could not have been more and the setback to the sport in India could be even worse.
Indian football that has never risen to any great heights has just hit a nadir and, before any judgements are hastily passed, it is not the players who are responsible for the ban but the administrators of the game.
FIFA banned AIFF for ‘undue influence from third parties’ and made it clear that the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled to be held in India this October cannot be held. What this means for Goa, in particular, which had been selected as one of the hosts, is that there will be no Women’s U-17 WC matches in the state and the country. FIFA’s ban doesn’t stop there and neither India nor any clubs affiliated to the AIFF will be able to participate in international competitions.
The international body has, however, said that it will lift the ban once the Committee of Administrators is repealed and the AIFF administration is in full control of the affairs. Hopefully, that can happen soon and India can actually host the Under-17 Women’s WC and return to playing at the international level. Hopefully, this move does not take football back to the days of playing in the paddy fields but gets it back in the stadium.
The FIFA ban on the AIFF is a reflection of what is going wrong in Indian sports and not just football. While the negatives of this ban are stacked up against the sport and its future as it has wider ramifications than just not playing in international matches, it could also lead to several positive outcomes and not just in football, but in other sports too. Principally, it can lead to some transparency in the functioning of the sports administrative bodies and also getting players and lovers of the sports managing the game rather than politicians.
India has a peculiar convention, if one may call it that, wherein most sports bodies are headed by politicians and at State level sometimes even political hopefuls. For many a position in a sports body it is a stepping stone to a political career and for many others it is a manner of staying in the spotlight after their political careers have crash-landed at the polls.
Let’s look at where India stands in international football. Its current ranking is 104 and the best it did was in February 1996 when it was ranked 94th. Given that it started at 142 rank in 1992, there has been an improvement but then India has never qualified for the World Cup finals, its best result in the Olympics was a 4th place in 1956 and a couple of gold medals in the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962.
These statistics leave one to imagine where exactly Indian football stands at the international level. Could the game have shown improvement in the past decades? And if it didn’t, has it been the lack of talent, the lack of opportunity or the absence of able management of the affairs?
India could definitely have done better and can still do better if there is a change of guard at the top that has only football as its priority and not politics. If the administration at the top is streamlined and works solely for the sport, then this will surely percolate to the state associations, bringing about a desired change in the game.
In that respect, we can look at Goa and how the state that once dominated the game is no longer such a major force to get a perspective of the manner in which administration of the game is also important. Football in the state has seen no significant improvement. Instead, there has been a decline in club football and if Goan football seeks to retain its dominance, it may have to work not just on the field, but also in the offices of the administrators of the game.
Talent exists in Goa. Even recently the state sent up to five players to the national team, yet its dominance on the field is not visible in the manner that it once was. Its last Santhosh Trophy victory was in 2008-09 and then a runners-up position in 2016-17 when it hosted the championship. This speaks of the level that Goan football has sunk to.
In any sport, if the talent on the field is not given a boost by the state associations, there can be no improvement at the national level. If the national federation has faulty management, so too will the state associations.
Indian football has been given a red card and has to sit out. It gives AIFF and the state associations time to regroup and return to the field stronger. The trick is in converting a negative to a positive and learning from the past by not repeating the mistakes. Can Indian football do this for the sake of the game?