Anwar Ali can play till AIFF's final decision, says High Court

Anwar Ali's career has been in limbo since he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition last year. Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Anwar Ali is free to play football until the All-India Football Federation takes a final decision on his case, the Delhi High Court has said. The court passed its order on Tuesday while hearing a petition filed by Ali challenging the AIFF's directive barring him from practicing with his club on account of a rare heart condition.

"The petition has been disposed of with the direction that the AIFF letter on September 7, by which he was stopped from training, that will no longer prevent him from playing and training with any other club he chooses, subject to the final decision of the committee whenever it comes," the court said. "If the committee decides against the petitioner, the court has given the petitioner the liberty to challenge the decision."

Ali had, in an unprecedented move, filed the petition against the AIFF and its medical committee as respondents, seeking a stay on the AIFF letter of September 7 to Mohammedan Sporting, directing the club to not allow Ali to train with the team. It also sought a stay on the medical committee's proceedings until the disposal of his petition.

The issue of whether Ali can play or not, from a medical point of view, is currently with the medical committee. It is this committee, which has heard Ali's testimony, that will effectively decide whether or not he is medically fit to resume his professional career.

Ali, 20, has been diagnosed with a rare condition known as apical hypercardio myopathy (HCM). The diagnosis was made in Mumbai last year while he was playing in the Indian Super League (ISL), and then confirmed last November by experts at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Rennes, France. The consensus: the level of risk to Ali, in normal conditions and at his age, was low but the risk rose significantly during match conditions, and age would be a factor over the years.

At its first hearing, the court issued an order stating that the medical committee would have to make its decision before the next hearing of the case due on October 20. The court also decided that Ali should be allowed to present evidence in his favour to the committee for a hearing on the 11th of October.

Meeting with the medical committee on October 11, Ali had submitted the testimony of Professor Sanjay Sharma, a fellow of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). He testified to Ali's suitability to return to competition, and also produced a medical report to that effect. While earlier recommendations of the ESC had advised athletes with HCM to abstain from competitive sports, the latest guidelines published by the same body on August 29, 2020, suggested taking a more 'liberal approach'.

Sharma is one of the leading authorities on the subject of sports cardiology in Europe, serves as the Cardiology Advisor to the English Football Association and oversees the cardiovascular screening programme for Youth Academy players of the 92 clubs affiliated with the FA.