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FIFA BAN: India Football Body Suspension Deals punch to Women Players
Experts say the ban will negatively impact the sport in India.
Fifa’s decision to suspend India’s football association has cast a shadow over the future of the sport and its players in the country.
The ban, which was announced late on Monday, may prevent India from hosting the women’s Under-17 World Cup, which was set to begin on 11 October.
On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court asked the federal government to take “proactive steps” to ensure that the suspension is lifted and the World Cup goes ahead according to plan.
Fifa said it suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) due to “undue interference by a third party”. This occurred after India’s Supreme Court disbanded the AIFF in May and appointed a three-member committee to govern the sport.
But Fifa’s rules say its member federations must be free from legal and political interference.
Fifa suspends Indian FA over third-party influence
While the suspension doesn’t apply to domestic tournaments, it will affect India’s participation in international matches and tournaments.
The biggest blow is to the young players who were looking forward to participating in the World Cup.
India was set to host the tournament in 2020, but this was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. It had got the opportunity to participate by virtue of being the host.
The news has disappointed players and fans
“I was really excited to watch the World Cup. It would have been a great honour for India. But now the thought that it might not happen makes me sad,” says Sai, 17, a footballer from the western Indian city of Mumbai who didn’t make it to the team.
Last year, Gokulam Kerala FC – a professional football team based in Kerala state – became the first Indian club to play in the prestigious Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Club Championship.
The team is currently in Uzbekistan for this year’s tournament, which is set to begin this week. The team’s president said on Tuesday that they still hope to play.
Players such as Bala Devi and Aditi Chauhan, who have played in foreign clubs, have developed a huge fan-following in India and are raising the bar of the sport in the country.
But the ban could interfere with this and dampen the morale of players.
“Since it is a World Cup, the sport would have got a lot of promotion. All eyes would have been on India and Indian players. Countless other girls might have been inspired to learn the sport after watching the games,” Sai says.
Indian women’s football has seen a dramatic growth in recent years
India is not the first country to be suspended under Fifa’s rule about autonomy.
Similar action has been taken against countries such as Benin, Kuwait, Nigeria and Iraq in the past. Last year, the Pakistan Football Federation was banned under the same rule but it was lifted in July 2022.
In India, AIFF was led by a former Fifa council member, Praful Patel, for more than a decade – from 2009 to 2020. Mr Patel is a member of parliament and belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party, one of India’s leading opposition parties.
Mr Patel had completed three terms of four years each as the president of AIFF, which made him ineligible to hold the post again as per government regulations.
But he continued to stay on as president even after his term ended in December 2020 as AIFF did not hold fresh elections. This led to the Supreme Court disbanding the federation in May this year, and Mr Patel being asked to step down. It was then that the Supreme Court appointed a three-member panel to govern the sport.
Fifa’s statement said the suspension will be lifted once the order to set up the committee is repealed and “the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs”.
“FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved,” the statement added.
Over 23.4 million people watch football in India, according to a survey by media consulting firm Ormax. The sport is hugely popular in states such as Kerala and West Bengal, which also have local clubs.
Though cricket still remains the most popular sport, viewership has been steadily rising for other games as well.
Amisha Khan, a football fan from the southern city of Bangalore, hopes that FIFA will rethink its decision.
“There’s not much following for women’s football in India, but things have changed in recent times. We were excited to watch footballers like Bala Devi play in the World Cup. I hope this ban doesn’t last long,” Ms Khan says.
Bhaichung Bhutia, former captain of the Indian men’s football team, called the ban a “very unfortunate” and “harsh” decision.
“But at the same time I feel it’s a great opportunity for us to get our system right,” he says, adding that he is hopeful the suspension will be lifted once AIFF elections are held.