FIFA ‘red card’ to AIFF shatters hopes of Kerala-based clubs

The decision came when the women’s team of Gokulam Kerala was in Uzbekistan for its debut in the AFC Women’s Club Championship.

BySreerag PS

Published Aug 17, 2022 | 9:00 AM Updated Mar 03, 2023 | 11:25 PM

Gokulam Kerala FC Women's Team in Uzbekistan

Football clubs and stalwarts from Kerala on Tuesday, 16 August, aired their concern over the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) suspending the All India Football Federation (AIFF) from its member-nations and also barring India from hosting the Under-17 Women’s World Cup that was about to be held from 11 to 30 October this year.

The suspension has created uncertainty about the signings of foreign players in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League as well.

The decision, if not repealed, would also prevent Kerala clubs from playing international tournaments.

The fan groups of the two major football clubs are also concerned about the situation.

Also read: Kerala Blasters stage walkout after controversial goal by Sunil Chhetri in ISL

FIFA’s statement

statement by FIFA read: “The Bureau of the FIFA Council has unanimously decided to suspend the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with immediate effect due to undue influence from third parties, which constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.”

It said the suspension would be lifted once a Committee of Administrators, which currently holds the powers of the AIFF Executive Committee, was repealed and the AIFF administration regained full control of the federation’s daily affairs.

The statement, besides talking about removing India as the host of the U-17 Women’s World Cup, also said FIFA was in “constant constructive contact” with India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, and hoped for a positive outcome.

The muddle

In 2017, the Supreme Court appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to the AIFF as the Delhi Court nullified the election of former Civil Aviation Minister and NCP leader Praful Patel as the president of the federation.

The court also assigned the duty of bringing AIFF’s constitution on the lines of the National Sports Code to former election commissioner SY Quraishi along with former Indian skipper Bhaskar Ganguly.

In May this year, the apex court appointed former Supreme Court judge AR Dave as the head of the CoA.

This Supreme Court-appointed committee is what is cited by FIFA as “third-party interference” on the functioning of the AIFF, which it wants to be repealed.

On Tuesday, soon after the suspension of the AIFF, the central government, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, sought an urgent hearing of the matter by the Supreme Court of India.

The court agreed to the plea and said that the matter was already listed for hearing on Wednesday.

Kerala football clubs suffer

As FIFA’s suspension of the AIFF was announced, Indian Women’s League (IWL) champions Gokulam Kerala FC had already reached Uzbekistan for their AFC Women’s Club Championship.

On debut in the championship, the Kozhikode-based club, also known by the name Malabarians, was about to play its opening match against the home side Sogdiana-W in Qarshi.

Darren Caldeira, a former Indian international, tweeted about the suspension: “In all these ego clashes, blame games and vested interests, Indian football was somewhat sidelined. Horrible what’s happened, but hopeful this will be sorted out at the earliest. Feel for the Gokulam girls who made the trip to Uzbekistan. Sad day. [sic]”

The FIFA decision also impacts the registration of foreign players for the upcoming football season of both the ISL and the I-League.

The suspension of the governing body of football in India comes at a time when the teams from Kerala were making great strides in the game.

In the last football season, Gokulam Kerala were the winners of both the I-League and Indian Women’s League (IWL), and were eligible for a spot in the AFC tournaments.

Kochi-based side Kerala Blasters were the runners-up of the Indian Super League.

The Kerala Football Association (KFA) team was crowned the champions of AIFF’s Santhosh Trophy.

Football legends speak up

Football legend and former Indian captain IM Vijayan told South First: “It is indeed a sad incident. This impacts the future of the players. In my opinion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should immediately intervene to find a solution to this crisis.”

Vijayan, who is considered one of the greatest footballers in India, has received numerous awards including the Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award. According to him, this is the first time in the history of Indian football that an action of this gravity has happened from FIFA.

“Losing the chance to host a FIFA World Cup will be a great loss to our country,” he said.

On 13 August, AIFF included 36 eminent players — including Bhaichung Bhutia and IM Vijayan — in the list of voters comprising the electoral college for its general body election, which was scheduled to be held on 28 August.

Vijayan welcomed his inclusion in the electoral college, and suggested that able leadership carry the AIFF in the future for the progress of football in the country.

Former Indian captain Bhutia also spoke on the decision. He called FIFA’s ruling very harsh.

In a PTI report published by News18, Bhutia was quoted as saying: “Very unfortunate that FIFA has banned Indian football and at the same time I feel it’s a very harsh decision of FIFA to ban Indian football.”

Clubs’ fans distraught

Manjappada and GKFC Battalia, the popular fan groups of Kerala Blasters and Gokulam Kerala, told South First they were distraught because of the FIFA ruling.

“We never expected a ban from FIFA. The fan group and the team are concerned about our future,” said Vysakh, a representative of GKFC Battalia.

“There was news spreading that the women’s team was returning from Uzbekistan, but as per our communication with the club that is not true. They intend to stay for some more days and evaluate the situation,” he added.

Vysakh feared that footballers might refrain from playing in India if the ban lasted for a long period.

According to him, the ban was avoidable as FIFA had given multiple options to avoid it. “The ban is the result of ego clashes within the federation,” he said.

Jijeesh, the working president and one of the 13 core members of Manjappada (Yellow Army), the official fan group of Kerala Blasters FC and one of the largest and most active fan groups in the country, empathised with the fans of Gokulam Kerala.

“Despite being a fan group of a different club, we empathise with Gokulam Kerala and their fans about the situation of their women’s team,” he said.

Manjappada also said in a statement to South First: “We hope all stakeholders involved come together and take an amicable decision that helps Indian football. This ban from FIFA will derail the progress made so far.”

It added that due FIFA’s ban, “our participation in AFC competitions is also a dream now”.

Anil Kumar, the secretary of the Kerala Football Association, however, told South First: “I have nothing to comment on the suspension of AIFF.”

Calls to the senior officials of the clubs Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters went unanswered.