SC seeks quick end to AIFF impasse
India should not lose right to host U17 World Cup, says top court
Expediting the process to put in place a “democratically elected” body to run All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Supreme Court said on Thursday it would try and ensure that India does not lose hosting rights for the under-17 women’s World Cup in October.
“Having regards to the legitimate concerns, we say that the matter requires to be expeditiously disposed...We are also concerned that we should not lose the hosting right for the World Cup,” said the bench, headed by justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud.
Fixing July 28 as the next date, the bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna, sped up the hearing for finalising AIFF’s new constitution, following which election can take place for a new general body and executive committee of AIFF. The Fifa deadline for elections is September 15.
AIFF is now run by a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), headed by former judge AR Dave, set up by the top court in May. CoA was also tasked with framing a new constitution.
Appearing for the Union government, additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain said India could lose the right to hold the World Cup (October 11-31). Pointing out instances where Fifa has banned countries for not having appropriate bodies in place, the ASG said AIFF elections could also be held under the National Sports Code (NSC).
Jain was countered by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan representing CoA. He said a draft constitution has been finalised following deliberations with players, state associations and all other stakeholders and 98% of the objections addressed.
Sankaranarayanan added that Fifa has been in touch with CoA. “Fifa-AFC (Asian Football Confederation) is completely on board and there is no threat to the World Cup. Their representatives were in India and they told us to have the constitution approved from the Supreme Court. Their concerns have been duly taken care of,” said Sankaranarayanan. Election should be held only under the new constitution, he said.
Appearing for AIFF’s state associations, senior advocate Maneka Guruswamy raised serious objections to the draft constitution, arguing CoA has gone beyond the ambit of the NSC in adding certain provisions. She also said state associations would prefer the election under the NSC.
‘Won’t shut doors’ on FSDL
Senior lawyers Harish Salve and KV Vishwanathan, representing Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), complained that some of their grievances relating to the running of the Indian Super League (ISL) have not been taken into account by CoA. FSDL is AIFF’s commercial partner and conducts ISL under the aegis of the federation. The draft constitution states that India’s top league must be owned and managed by AIFF.
Asking all the parties to file short written submissions before the next hearing, the bench agreed to hear the FSDL too. “There is no allergy to commercial interests. You need money for the game to thrive. We cannot look at you (FSDL) with suspicion just because you have a contract. We won’t shut our doors to you,” the court said.
ASG Jain and representatives of the Union sports ministry have been asked by the court to meet the CoA and try thrashing out some of the issues before the next hearing.
The Supreme Court had on May 12 agreed to hear a plea of the Delhi Football Club. The plea said the term of AIFF’s office-bearers had ended on December 2020 and that president Praful Patel had also completed three four-year stints by then. Twelve years is the maximum permitted to a national sports federation chief under NSC. The committee running AIFF is thus illegal, the plea said.
On May 18, the court directed that CoA, with former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi and former India football captain Bhaskar Ganguly as members, shall run the federation until a new body is elected.
In 2017, the Delhi High Court set aside Patel’s election in 2016 on a petition by senior advocate Rahul Mehra. The Supreme Court stayed the high court’s decision in November 2017, allowing Patel to continue while appointing Quraishi and Ganguly as ombudsman to prepare a new AIFF constitution. The draft was readied in 2019 but the matter had not been effectively heard by the court until last May.
Fifa regulations bar a federation or its affiliated units from approaching a court of law. It mandates its members must resolve disputes within the football family. As a private citizen though Mehra could take AIFF to court but if the deadline to have new elected office-bearers is not met, Fifa could ban India for third party interference.