Igor Stimac had a lot to say at the end of India’s highly successful AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign in Kolkata recently. In fact, never before in his three-year tenure so far, had the Croatian spoken so much – the tone and tenor of his statement was enough to raise many eyebrows.

“You can hear things about changes (in the federation) in the coming months. There will be things that will come out and there will be conditions for me to stay. Something must change drastically and I don’t care who is on the opposite side – be it in the FSDL, AIFF or the government,” the former World Cupper was quoted as saying after India finished with nine points from three matches and assured their presence in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

Not everyone in the Indian football circuit is surprised by Stimac’s no holds barred utterances after the 4-0 demolition of Hong Kong. Some feel Stimac knows the All India Football Federation is going through a difficult period. So, the Croatian, whose contract runs up to September and needs a renewal, decided to up the ante.

But the Committee of Administrators, who are currently running the show at AIFF after last month’s Supreme Court verdict removed the previous committee headed by Praful Patel, is not too perturbed by the way things are moving with regards to the national team.

Dr. SY Quraishi, the former chief election commissioner of the country and currently a member of the Supreme Court appointed CoA, feels there is enough time left to decide on Stimac’s extension and his other demands. He said the plan is to call the national coach for a meeting, but didn’t spell out a specific date for that.

“We are still in the process of studying the entire thing – Stimac’s contract and other issues. We will meet the coach in due course of time. We will certainly cross the bridge when we get to it. All issues will be settled,” said Quraishi in an interview to this writer.

But one problem with the issue is that all the sub-committees in the AIFF have also ceased to exist after the Supreme Court removed Patel and his executive committee. It includes the technical committee, which decides the fate of the coaches in various national teams – their appointment, extension and even removal is subject to the approval of the technical committee.

Quraishi thinks this process is not going to be a huge problem. “I know the national coach’s job is up to September and a decision has to be taken. For this, we can consult some well-known experts in Indian football….even the members of the previous committee can also be requested to give their inputs. September is still a couple of months away and we will arrive at a decision in time.”

‘We are not here to stay’

Quraishi, a member of the three-man committee, which also has retired Supreme Court judge AR Dave and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly, has a fair idea of how sports federations are run in India. A retired IAS officer, he once was the secretary in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

Asked his opinion on the general administration of the AIFF, Quraishi said: “There are indeed some issues….problems and negativity, but that’s nothing big. Overall, it is good, the activities are going on, the matches are being played, so there is not much to complaint about. But then, there are some questionable acts, mostly involving some financial issues.”

Quraishi, however, wasn’t ready to reveal anything beyond this. “We shouldn’t be talking about this here since we are still looking into things and checking documents,” he said.

The policy of the CoA, Quraishi spelled out, is absolutely simple. “We are not here to stay. The country’s highest court has entrusted us with a job and we want to finish it off within the period specified by the court. Our aim is to hold the elections as soon as possible and get out of it. That’s the way we want to serve the game.

“The Fifa team is coming to India next week. We haven’t chalked out any strategy, we have no special plan before meeting them. Our policy is simple. We will tell Fifa what we are here for. I am sure they will understand this,” said Quraishi.

Easier said than done

The CoA, however, is aware of the fact that putting the new constitution in place would be a tall task. The draft constitution has several clauses that go beyond the ambit of National Sports Code 2011 and getting everyone to agree on those points is not going to be an easy job.

There is more than one point in the proposed constitution that can raise a storm and the debates over them can virtually leave the federation a divided house. Some members are upset that the proposed constitution has included vice presidents and executive committee members as office bearers, which will restrict their term and tenure in the federation. While they alleged it wasn’t the part of the Sports Code, where only the president, secretary and treasurer are considered office bearers, Quraishi said nothing has been finalised yet.

“We are trying to get all stakeholders to discuss, get their suggestions and reach a consensus. Once we made the proposed constitution public, suggestions were pouring in from all over. We will talk to a large number of people and reach a consensus. But I must tell you one thing – the Supreme Court has entrusted us with the job of framing a constitution. We are doing that. We are not here only to incorporate the missing clauses from the Sports Code,” said the member of the CoA.

The draft constitution has one suggestion that has caused alarm.

Point 33 of Article 1 of the draft states, “I-League is the senior most top division league competition in India owned, operated and recognised by the AIFF.”

Point 58 of Article 1 states, “Senior most top division league shall mean the league competition owned, operated and recognised by the AIFF, that implements the principles of promotion and relegation, and meets all requirements prescribed by the AFC for being eligible to obtain a direct slot in the Asian Champions League.”

Given the current scenario in Indian football, it is difficult to imagine I-League regaining its place as the country’s top flight league, especially after the roadmap approved by all stakeholders in the AIFF-AFC joint meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 2019, that clearly defined ISL as the top league.

Quraishi asserted he was aware of the current situation. “This constitution was drafted before the AIFF-AFC meeting with various stakeholders. We know a new roadmap has been created and is being followed presently. As I said, all problems will be solved after detailed discussion with people involved in Indian football. The same rule will be followed here too,” he said.