The stand-off between the clubs of the Manipur State League and the All Manipur Football Association seems to have come to an end, with the Registrar of Societies declaring the latter dissolved. The Registrar of Societies also asked the Manipur football governing body to conduct fresh elections.

In a shocking turn of events, the Registrar declared that the AMFA, registered under the Manipur Societies Registration Act of 1989, had been “irregular” in many aspects, including the maintenance of regular Minutes of Meetings and mismanagement of funds.

After the Imphal High Court had passed an order asking AIFF to intervene in the matter, the Registrar, while looking into the AMFA’s activities, asked the post-holders to step down and called for fresh elections. It also declared all decisions taken since 2008 to be null and void.

‘Go by the book’

Sources who are well versed with the situation have said that the Manipur government, led by Chief Minister Biren Singh, was keeping a close watch on the proceedings, but were unwilling to intervene due to the fact that Fifa rules forbid political interference in the running of an association. Manipur’s sports minister Letpao Haokip had to field questions in the state Assembly about the fact that the Manipur State League for the previous season had still not been completed.

After having been apprised of the situation at the All Manipur Football Association, Chief Minister Biren Singh, a former footballer himself, had asked the Registrar to “go by the book” regarding its findings, according to a source.

A high-ranking official in the All India Football Federation said that the governing body would have to abide by the Registrar’s ruling. “Earlier, we were instructed by the court to intervene in the matter. But now that the Registrar has declared the AMFA null and void, we have no choice but to abide by his wishes. We will call for fresh elections as soon and will be sending an observer there (to Imphal) to oversee the elections,” the official said.

Massive protests in Imphal

Messages such as these were circulating on social media.

Earlier on Thursday, massive protests took place in front of the AMFA’s office in Kanjeibung, Imphal, after the state team’s poor performances in the Dr T Ao Memorial Tournament and the 2018 Santosh Trophy.

Due to a stand-off between nine clubs of the MSL and the association, players from these clubs were not eligible to play for the state and many football lovers in the state were unhappy with the team sent to these two tournaments.

Manipur, five-time champions of the T Ao tournament, crashed out of the competition, losing all of their matches, including heavy 4-0 and 5-0 defeats to Assam and Arunachal respectively – matches that they would have expected to win with ease in the past.

Protesters held placards like these aloft. (Image courtesy: Junior Zemz)

Cancellation of CC Meet

The Santosh Trophy did not see a change in fortunes, after the team suffered more humiliating losses in Kolkata. They managed to draw 1-1 against Chandigarh, but the 6-0 reverse to Kerala and 7-2 thrashing by Maharashtra did not go too down, with one spectator declaring the latter as “the darkest day in Manipur football”.

Not only has the state league not fully resumed, the famous Churachandpur meet, a knockout style competition that has been held since 1961, has not taken place this time.

After the AMFA tried to tweak rules trying to exclude clubs from the protesting Manipur State League Participating Teams’ Forum, the latter got a stay order from the court on the tournament, and it has not taken place this year.

Many are unhappy with the state's recent results. (Image courtesy: Junior Zemz)

TRAU almost pays the price

All teams participating in the second division and the first division are supposed to receive an obligatory sign-off from their respective state associations before they can participate in national competitions.

It was no different for Tiddim Road Athletic Union, which is participating in this year’s second division but their entry was almost jeopardised by the AMFA, which took exception to the club being a part of the protesting forum.

The impasse continued till the day before the start of the second division, forcing TRAU to resign from the MSLPTF, in order to ensure their dreams of reaching the I-League remained alive. This is also the same reason why I-League runners-up Neroca were forced to pull out of the forum.

It's not a good time to be a Manipur football supporter. (Image courtesy: Junior Zemz)

Fresh elections might not solve the problem

The current constitution of the AMFA dictates that a candidate with at least three years’ experience as the head of a district association may run for the post of president.

As some outsiders have remarked, this rule was put in place to ensure that power is consolidated within a closed circle and that this was not according to AIFF’s guidelines.

However, the AIFF maintains that it is a mere governing body with constituent state units, but it cannot interfere in the electoral process unless it spots irregularities. Due to the current rules governing ascension to AMFA posts, many feel that fresh elections may bring the same group back into power.