The Supreme Court removed the Committee of Administrators appointed by it and restored the All India Football Federation’s administration under its acting secretary general on Monday, raising hopes of the world soccer body, FIFA, lifting its suspension of the national body soon.
Observing that the under-17 Women’s World Cup—scheduled in India in October but a casualty if the suspension is not quickly lifted—“must come to India”, the court also reverted to an old election module granting voting rights only to representatives of the 36 member units of AIFF to elect its new 23-member executive council.
“Certainty in holding the tournament is our top-most priority…the tournament must come to India…this order is to protect the pride of India…our players,” said the bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, agreeing to modify its previous order after the central government filed an application to scrap the CoA, a key condition of FIFA to lift the suspension.
The court accepted all the suggestions of the government to ensure India keeps the tournament. It extended the time to elect the new EC by a week to streamline the process in the wake of the court’s fresh order. With the CoA terminated, the returning officers appointed by it will be treated as court-appointed.
A court order on August 3 had given voting rights to 36 eminent players besides the state units. FIFA, while suspending the Indian federation, had also said players could only be co-opted and cannot be voting members. With India hosting the World Cup in doubt, the Centre requested the court to modify its order and scrap the CoA, which FIFA had ruled amounted to “third party interference”.
The court order on Monday said: “Time for the completion of the elections which were scheduled to take place on August 28 shall stand extended by one week… The day-to-day management of AIFF shall be exclusively looked after by the AIFF administration led by the acting secretary general. The mandate of the CoA by the order of this court stands terminated.”
Sunando Dhar is the acting secretary general. The 23-member AIFF EC shall comprise 17 elected members and six eminent players (4 men, 2 women) shall be nominated, said the court. The court said it would consider further orders if the election process is not taken to a logical end by September first week.
Discussion on the draft constitution submitted by the CoA shall be taken up at a later date, the court said. “We are looking at two things. The tournament should take place. And second, when we intervene, the court is dubbed as a third party… We made a bipartisan effort. We took everybody on board. We would become the ones to be attacked, that we are responsible for the tournament not happening here. Be it the CoA or us, we tried our best,” the bench said.
Earlier, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, underlined FIFA’s concerns that basically revolved around AIFF’s management by CoA and voting rights to the players. He said that the consequences of suspension shall be “disastrous” also because the players will not be able to participate in any international event.
Appearing on behalf of the CoA, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan argued that CoA is not at all interested in staying on feels that losing the right to hold one tournament should not be the reason for delaying reforms in AIFF. “This court constituted the CoA, which is effectively an extension of the court. To call it third-party interference means this court has interfered. That’s the tone and tenor of all the communications from FIFA. CoA’s views are that the court must not cave in to any pressure and players must be included in the electoral college,” he argued.
Advocate Raghenth Basant, representing former India team captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who is contesting for the post of AIFF president, submitted to the court: “The orders of this court to have players in the governing body must be complied with…I do understand national pride but I would rather have an Indian team which is capable of qualifying on its own after some time instead of letting all the ills continue just for the sake of one tournament.”
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, who first brought the irregularities in the running of AIFF to the notice of the Delhi high court before the case came before the top court, urged the bench against agreeing to FIFA’s terms. “If we go down this path, this will be taken as a precedent for all other bodies where the courts have found themselves constrained to set up CoAs,” he said.
The court, however, was unequivocal that it must prioritise staging the World Cup and the rest of the issues can be taken up later.
The CoA informed the court that the forensic audit initiated by it into financial transactions in AIFF when Praful Patel was the president prima facie suggests siphoning off of funds. The court said the final audit report should be handed over to the government for action.
Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for Patel, argued that he is not interested in any AIFF post and that he supports an early election.
The CoA urged the bench to issue a show-cause notice of contempt against Patel, alleging that he misused his position as FIFA Council Member to undermine the court’s orders and jeopardise the World Cup hosting right. The bench said it would consider the contempt plea later.