'Can you name one Federation where the Government or a party or a politician is not involved?' Kalyan Chaubey had asked a journalist when he was questioned about the allegations of political influence in his election as the new All India Football Federation (AIFF) president.
For a Federation that was suspended less than a month back by FIFA for ‘third party involvement’, these words did not signal the most auspicious of starts as India got its first new AIFF president in over 13 years.
Former goalkeeper and current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Kolkata, Kalyan Chaubey ticks the box for being the first former player to helm Indian football. But his 33-1 victory over Bhaichung Bhutia for the post courted more controversy than celebrations with Rajasthan Football chief Manvendra Singh claiming that former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju urged the 34 voters to not vote for the former Indian striker, on the eve of the election.
"I know for a fact that Kiren Rijiju came into the hotel last night and stayed till midnight, exhorting the voters to vote against Bhaichung. I think it’s a shame and shows interference, and is against FIFA’s principles. It reflects poorly on the Government that they used so much effort to defeat an icon."Manvendra Singh, President of the Rajasthan Football Association
With almost every second sports body in India led by an affiliate of a political party, or a politician – why should Chaubey’s pretty open admission of political involvement in his election be of concern?
For one, FIFA’s membership clause states clearly that every affiliate national federation should ‘manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties’. While the 'third party' that got the AIFF suspended on 15 August was the Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), the term, by definition, also includes any political influence.
Bhaichung Bhutia, whose candidature was not supported by his own home state, said this to PTI about outside influence in the election.
“Out of the 34 members of the electoral college, 33 were taken to a floor of the hotel and access was denied to the whole floor. I could not contact any of the voters, the network was down. I tried calling the secretary of the Rajasthan association, who is a voter and whose president (Manvendra Singh) was my seconder, but I could not reach him on phone.”Bhaichung Bhutia, Former Indian Football Captain
But, is one single vote what Bhaichung truly deserved? He had spent more years in the system, had more administrative experience in football, is a name that commands respect, and more importantly, had targets that spoke of knowing what areas of Indian football needed work – financial help for state units, football leagues in every state.
Kalyan Chaubey, on the day of winning his election, said that he would announce his targets five days later, and would take another 100 days to draft a proper plan for his tenure.
One priority that he did mention before the election was the need for each state unit to have an office! That though seemed to be enough for the BJP minister to win the votes of 33 of the voting states, including the state that had seconded Bhaichung’s candidature – Rajasthan.
So while Kalyan Chaubey’s election may herald the start of a new chapter for Indian football, is it really so in the bigger picture?
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