The Delhi High Court on Tuesday set aside the December 2016 election of All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel after finding that the federation polls did not follow the national sports code. It appointed former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi as administrator of the federation and ordered that fresh elections be held within five months.
Patel had been re-elected unopposed as the AIFF president for a third term at its annual general meeting after the Delhi High Court vacated a stay on the elections of the national sports body.
The court's order came three days after the completion of the Under-17 World Cup. It was the first-ever FIFA event in India, which saw record attendance figures.
In a statement issued several hours after the order, the AIFF said it would decide on its course of action after receiving a copy of the order. It said it had "followed the election process as prescribed under [the] Sports Code, its constitution as well FIFA and AFC statutes". The election, it said, was conducted under the supervision of a retired high court judge, who acted as the returning officer.
The AIFF also told the court that its constitution was in compliance with the sports code's terms of age limit, tenure limit of prime office bearers and one state-one vote policy.
Tuesday's court order came on a plea by advocate Rahul Mehra, who contended that the AIFF elections were held contrary to the national sports code. The sports code is a set of guidelines established by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in 2011, ensuring that national sports federations (NSFs) dependent on government funding were made accountable and transparent. Its focus was to regulate election procedures, membership criteria and make the NSFs provide accounts of the aid received from the government and make them amenable to the RTI Act.
The code's first success was in December 2012, when the sports ministry de-recognised two federations -- archery and boxing -- for manipulation of their elections.
"This is an order that was due for a long time," Mehra told ESPN. "I had challenged the 2012 election of the AIFF as well. However, it was only an order passed by the high court in 2013 that made it clear that the elections of the national sports federation shall be held in compliance with the sports code of the Government of India. That judgment was crucial. However, exactly the same violation of norms happened in the AIFF elections of 2016 as well, where the norms of the national sports development code were violated."
Mehra said the sports code had made it clear that each candidate must be nominated by one member association and seconded by another member, but in the AIFF process each candidate had to be nominated by five member associations. "The AIFF argued that they followed the sports code as well as FIFA rules," he said. "Ultimately the court decided that this was not the case. The court has said if there were certain rules in place, why were they not adhered to? It is not just Praful Patel who will have to step down but also I assume all the executive committee members of the AIFF."
Mehra said he did not see any disturbance in the AIFF's functioning as a result of the court order. "They have a paid secretary general and other office-bearers who will continue to function as usual and must assist the functioning of the interim administrator, SY Quraishi," he said. "There will be a jolt in the immediate future but it will set in place good processes to follow for the long term for Indian football."
Mehra, however, said he didn't think the matter will be settled with this order. "I expect the AIFF to challenge it in much the same way as the BCCI has challenged the Supreme Court [regarding the recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee]."
Patel has been India's civil aviation minister in the past, and is also the chairman of the Western Indian Football Association. He replaced Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi as AIFF president in October 2009, almost a year after the latter had taken ill. Dasmunsi had practically handed over control of the federation to Patel, one of the vice-presidents up to that point.
In recent years, Patel has been nominated to vital positions in both the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as well as the world governing body, FIFA. He was nominated as the south Asian vice-presidential representative to the AFC in 2015, and elevated to the position of a senior vice-president the following year. Earlier in 2017, Patel was also appointed to FIFA's finance committee for a period of four years.
The court order will not affect Patel's role as AFC senior vice-president. "Mr. Praful Patel was elected by the AFC Congress in Bahrain for the period 2015-19. He remains free to continue in that role," Colin Gibson, director of communications for the AFC, told ESPN via email.