FIFA handed AIFF a harsh lesson, but Indian football can still win from here

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FIFA's ban of India had the inadvertent effect of finally putting Indian football at the centre of the nation's sporting consciousness. Responses ranged from 'how dare they' and 'who do FIFA think they are' to 'what did we do this time!' to the all-time classic 'it's all a play by vested interests'.

We know the why, and the when, of this case and we know how it all played out at the end. The central government, keen not to lose out on hosting a junior World Cup it had already promised the public, pushed for an amicable settlement, and the Supreme Court ordered everyone to do essentially whatever FIFA had demanded in the first place.

No one involved with the administration of Indian football, new or old, has come out of this farcical mess looking good. The question now is, whether lessons have been learnt from the past week (and more), because at least two are plainly evident:

Indian football does not exist in isolation

Let's get one thing straight at the outset. Reform is needed, no one should be allowed to take undue advantage of the system. In attempting to correct this, both the Supreme Court and the SC-appointed Committee of Administrators had the right intent at the start. What the latter seemingly failed to comprehend, though, was that the AIFF is just a small cog in the global football ecosystem.

Say what you want about FIFA and their functioning, but in cases of their member associations breaking their statutes (which are simple enough to follow, really), they are uniformly strict in their action. Whether it's a tinpot dictatorship or the world's largest democracy, the rules are the same. As is the punishment for not following them. Now, you could argue that FIFA's rules ought to be adapted to local conditions and circumstances, but the practical truth remains that they are not. And in a body that has more members than the United Nations, everyone is expected to follow these simple guidelines.

You could be pure in your intentions, and naive (or arrogant) about your import in the larger scheme of things, but the simple fact of the matter is that Indian football cannot exist outside this ecosystem. There were some arguments made in court, and some sentiments expressed outside, that perhaps a ban is good for the Indian system, that the pain of missing out on one World Cup is miniscule in relation to what was to be gained by adopting the proposed reforms.

What those arguments failed to take into consideration was that this was not a limited-period-only-offer kind of suspension. If the AIFF were to adopt a constitution that had norms in "flagrant violation" of FIFA's statutes, and then continued to work (elections, day-to-day admin, et al) on that basis, FIFA wasn't going to suddenly develop amnesia in a year or two and allow AIFF back into the fold. Indian football would still be in violation and the suspension would still be in effect. If anything, it would probably have been upgraded to an outright ban.

Where would that leave Indian football? No national team - unless you didn't mind seeing India A play India B on loop. No international football at all for the clubs in the country. No coaching licenses or grassroots developments programmes from either the Asian or world bodies. No funding from FIFA. Trouble in attracting and registering foreign players, and even foreign coaches - in this scenario, India would exist in a bubble of her own.

The end result would be Indian football grinding to a halt, any (little) progress set back by years, any hint of potential snubbed before you could spell out the word. FIFA does not bend their own rules for anyone: 'you want to be a member, you follow our rules', and that's reasonable. Meanwhile, the implications of not listening are real enough. Just ask Gokulam Kerala.

Any proposed reform then, must mandatorily be done keeping in mind the overarching regulations of the world body as membership there is non-negotiable (Interestingly, something that's even explicitly mentioned in the National Sports Code). There is still much that can be done within that very broad framework.

Nominating players to the Electoral College is a mere Band-Aid

Players need to be in sports administration: there is very little argument anyone can have against that particular sentiment. There should, though, be plenty to argue against one of the CoA's key proposals (and the root cause of the suspension): introducing 36 'eminent players' into the general assembly of the AIFF, with complete voting powers. These two views are not antithetical to each other, however much they appear to be.

In the proposed scenario, 36 ex-footballers are being parachuted straight into the boiling cauldron at the top of the footballing pyramid in India. Voting in these presidential elections would be just one function, they would have a say in general administration as full members of the AIFF general body. Now, the nominated players may or may not have administrative experience of any kind and they may or may not be capable of adapting to this whole new world of suits and (a very different kind of) boots, but that's not been taken into consideration at all. It should be.

After all, being able to find the back of the net with regularity does not really have to equal being able to understand the financial implications of a commercial contract or the long-term effects of a policy decision. Players don't go from playing right into a head coach role, do they? There are courses they take, exams they pass, licenses they earn. Most inevitably start with junior teams, and then work their way up the ladder. Why should we look at administrative roles any differently?

This does not mean there's no solution. There is one, it's just down a much longer, much harder road:

Get footballers involved in administration at the grassroots level; the district level, the state level. Allow them to learn the ropes of the trade, to understand how the system (the people, the laws, the regulations, the nitty-gritty) works, to work their way up the brass, work their way into the national general body. Do not throw them unprepared into the deep end with the sharks; that's just setting them up for failure.

If the proposed reform is meant to have any substantial impact on this issue, it really ought to have tackled this exclusion of players at administration on the ground level. In doing so they would have achieved one of their key objectives (player representation) while not being in violation of any FIFA statute. It would also have addressed the issue of equal representation of member bodies in the AIFF, something this proposed list has completely ignored.

For anybody attempting round 2 of the clean-up of the AIFF, that's perhaps something to keep in mind - reform takes time, it takes patience, and it must start from the ground-up if it has to last.