[Editorial] AIFF Suspension and Sports Administration in India

While India is celebrating its athletes’ remarkable performance at the Commonwealth Games, a blow to India’s sporting scene came in the form of the suspension of All India Football Federation by FIFA (International Federation of Association Football).      

        

What is the Sports Code?

  • National Sports Development Code of India or Sports Code is the framework for good governance in sports. It was introduced by the central government in 2011.
  • This code was envisaged to improve governance in sports management at the national level, but without compromising the national sports bodies’ autonomy.
  • This code found wide-spread acceptance as many of the sports federations were being administered as specific individuals’ personal fiefdom. These individuals, including politicians, remained in power for extended periods.
  • With the introduction of the Sports Code, restrictions regarding tenure and age were brought in.

What happens when there is a violation?

  • In case a federation violates the code, it could be put under the purview of a Committee of Administrators (CoA).
  • For instance, in May, the Supreme Court appointed a 3-member CoA, headed by former SC Judge A R Dave to oversee the functioning of AIFF (All India Football Federation).
  • AIFF’s President Praful Patel had to resign as he had been heading the football body in the country for over 12 years.
  • Similarly, the Delhi High Court took note of code violation by Hockey India. The court called for the formation of a CoA to run its administration as well.

Why was AIFF suspended recently?

  • Since May, the government, the judiciary and the administrators have been trying to create a framework to improve AIFF governance. Formulating stricter rules was a part of these efforts. In this time period, many problems were ironed out.
  • However, a major issue remained in the form of players’ inclusion in the federations’ decision-making process. The CoA allowed players to have 50% representation as co-opted members, in the federation’s executive committee. They would also have voting rights.
  • The state associations opposed this move. Notably, FIFA recommends only 25% such representation in sports bodies.
  • Recently, the FIFA stepped in and suspended the federation, citing ‘undue 3rd party interference’. It also called for a repeal of the CoA.

Why is it significant?

  • In case this issue isn’t resolved quickly, India could suffer the embarrassment of losing hosting rights to the October U-17 Women’s World Cup.
  • It would threaten India’s international friendlies, its clubs’ participation in international competitions, etc.
  • It would also risk losing developmental funds from FIFA and Asian Football Federation.
  • In short, the recent suspension of AIFF might result in Indian football facing international isolation.
  • This would mean that the players, referees, coaches and others involved in football could suffer the consequences of poor governance- which wouldn’t be their mistake.
  • The Indian football fans are likely to be let down as the AIFF had just found an opportunity to undertake radical reforms and get its administration in order- after 34 years under politicians.

What is the way ahead?                                 

  • The court has asked the union government to break the logjam by holding talks with FIFA.
  • It could be argued that the CoA was overzealous in a possibly good-faith attempt to enable players become equal stakeholders in the federation. The CoA had stated that it is working on finding a common ground with FIFA.
  • Indian football faces several deep-rooted problems that can’t be solved using a suspension. FIFA could have been more sensitive to the players’ needs.
  • However, a significant blame for this crisis lies with the erstwhile establishment, led by Mr Patel for over 12 years. Violation of the code related to membership, tenures and age-limit is rampant in the country.
  • Court-appointed CoAs have been constituted for several sports, in 2022 itself- hockey, table tennis and judo. Recently, the Delhi High Court formed a CoA for the Indian Olympic Association.
  • The sorry state of affairs can be gauged from how one has to approach the higher judiciary to enforce a code, mandated by the government for Indian sports culture’s health and benefit.
  • At a time when the country is trying to diversify its sports culture and nurture new champions, it cannot afford administrators who claim to be the custodians of the games, bring the very same game to disrepute.
  • Timely steps are needed to prevent the actions of a few inept administrators don’t affect the larger majority.

Conclusion:

The recent suspension of AIFF is a depressing low in Indian sporting history. The disgrace comes even before the celebrations over India’s Commonwealth Games performance has died down. Not addressing the issues- not only the suspension but also the larger problems plaguing the sports bodies- would worsen the crisis and harm the country’s long-term interests.

Practice Question for Mains:

What is India’s Sports Code? Discuss the importance of effective administration of sports bodies in reference to the AIFF suspension incident. (250 words)

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