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Why AIFF has lost the right to run Indian football

Jaydeep Basu

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The All India Football Federation has reduced the I-League to a non-entity.

New Delhi: Going through the latest press release from All India Football Federation (AIFF) is like listening to the Barry McGuire song. “The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace, you can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace….

In its executive committee meeting on Tuesday evening, the AIFF, founded in 1937, has decided to hand over its biggest property, the national league, to a private enterprise, lock, stock and barrel. With this, they have certainly lost all moral rights to call themselves a government-recognised National Sports Federation (NSF).

In one stroke, the AIFF, led by its president Praful Patel, has reduced the I-League to a non-entity. It’s status, television coverage and standing in the Asian circuit is no more guaranteed.

The Indian Super League has been recommended to the AFC as the national league in the country by the AIFF.

Instead, the country’s new national league will be a tournament, on which the AIFF has no control whatsoever, be it selection of teams and players, scheduling of matches or framing of regulations.

A dramatic turnaround indeed, considering the fact Patel often called it a “entertainment tournament” in comparison to I-League, started in 2007 as country’s “first professional league.”

The stunning switchover, if sources are to be believed, came after Patel apprised the executive committee about a particular clause in a Master Rights agreement (MRA) signed between the AIFF and its marketing partners in 2010.

The draconian clause called for AIFF surrendering all its rights to dictate terms and conditions in running the league by its marketing partners. It also readily agreed, if needed, to close down the I-League, for the benefit of the privately-run league.

Well, AIFF can always turn around and say, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” But then, the problem here, is different. It is not about a typical left versus right dialogue, or, for that matter, the age old debate on public versus private enterprise.

The question here is simple; Can football in India be allowed to be monopolised by a single private organisation or multiple players should be brought in to make it more vibrant? Private players were always there but one had different choices – Dempo, Salgaocar, JCT, Mahindra, Kingfisher, Quess and so on.

The ISL was founded in 2014 by the AIFF’s marketing partners.

The present situation is absolutely baffling. No one is sure (not even within the AIFF) how some companies were brought in to raise franchises in the new national league. Since the bidding process always remained a closed one, the names of other interested players could never be known.

There were strong rumours of series of conflict of interest, like a franchise head is a close relative of a leading arm of the league organisers, but the AIFF was hardly eager to probe.

Worse is the allegations of fascist streak within the system. Try and control the process of supervision, the disciplinary issues and even matters referred to judicial sub committees. They often say when companies have a monopoly, the prices are too high and production is too low; also, there is always the danger of an inefficient allocation of resources.

Patel’s AIFF does not think so. The new national league, according to them, has done wonders in producing footballers for the national team, in grassroots and youth development. Alarming drop in attendance, failing to clear licensing criteria or conceding dozen goals in youth leagues were exceptions.

The AIFF, led by its president Praful Patel (centre), will have no control over the ISL’s organisation.

The term “new world order” is often used these days to refer dramatic changes in politics and balance of power.

The same can be said about football and the AIFF in particular. No national sporting body in the country has sold all its rights to national championships to raise money. Not even the much-maligned cricket board.

AIFF has shown the way. Now, it should now refrain from calling itself an old- fashioned NSF, which expects the taxpayers’ money should be used for its developmental needs.

Tuesday’s meeting of the AIFF executive committee takes us back to the Barry McGuire song again. “And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

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