By Samindra Kunti in New Delhi
November 1 – Just as Indian football was celebrating the successful hosting of the U17 World Cup, controversy has struck with the Delhi High Court issuing an order to “set aside” the election of AIFF president Praful Patel over election irregularities and nominating SY Quraishi as interim administrator to ensure new elections within five months.
The ruling is a shock to Patel, who had taken centrestage as the country welcomed the football world at to India’s first major football tournament, and pitched India’s bid for the 2019 U-20 World Cup to the FIFA Council last Friday.
The AIFF president had been invited to sit in on the session, allowing him to pitch India as a budding football nation after staging the U-17 World Cup without major hiccups.
On Tuesday the Delhi High Court disturbed Patel’s vision of a bright future for Indian football when it deemed his last election as AIFF president was not in compliance with India’s national sports code. The bench of justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Najmi Waziri also appointed former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi as interim administrator, with the body given five months to conduct fresh elections.
In 2008 Patel first became AIFF acting president for a one-year term after former president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi suffered a cardiac arrest. A year later, he became full-time president and was re-elected in December 2012. Acting on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) field by noted lawyer Rahul Mehra, the court set aside the last AIFF elections in 2016 when Patel was re-elected unopposed for a third term.
“AIFF conducted its election under the supervision of a retired High Court Judge, who acted as the Returning Officer,” read a statement from India’s governing body. “AIFF’s election process is as per the FIFA and AFC statutes as well.”
“AIFF is not aware of the reasons of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court to pass this order,” ended the statement.”
“FIFA is awaiting an official communication from the AIFF concerning the said matter,” according to a FIFA spokesman. Patel is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Patel has become an increasingly visible football administrator internationally as he has battled to raise the profile and significance of the game in the world’s second biggest country. Central to his domestic challenges has been to find a peaceful path forward in the dispute between the I-League and the Indian Super League for recognition as the top league in the country. Various solutions have been proposed but clubs have failed to agree a common solution, causing accusations of alientation from some stakeholders in India.
Patel has also taken international responsibility as an AFC Senior Vice President having been drafted in by the AFC to oversee issues in West Asia regarding the execution of commercial rights.
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