During the All India Football Federation’s executive committee meeting in Mumbai two years ago, vice president Larsing Ming Sawyan, who is also the owner of I-League club Shilong Lajong, had an argument with president Praful Patel over the future of Indian football.

Patel was clearly miffed following the exchange and later as most of them were walking out said, “What is his (Ming) contribution to Indian football. I have been doing so much and he is trying to teach me.”

The meeting had a heated debate on the future of the Indian Super League and I-League and the president was ultimately authorised to find a short term and long term solution to the problem. With the u-17 world cup approaching, the AIFF decided to brush aside most of those concerns by holding the two leagues simultaneously. Since then the issue has been kept hanging despite the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa making it clear that the unified league structure should be in place by the 2019-20.

Two years later, AIFF and Patel are no closer to finalising a possible road map and just like many other issues facing Indian football, have chosen to bury their heads in sand and hope that the problem will sort itself out.

Bizarre silence

There can probably be no other explanation to the immediate informal communication from the AIFF office to the I-League clubs which threatened to pull out of the Super Cup, that started with the qualifying rounds on Friday. The clubs were informed that Patel was travelling and hence they couldn’t be given any concrete response about the possible solutions to the issues they were raising.

And this has brought things to a standstill with Churchill Brothers joining seven others in boycotting the Super Cup. Though AIFF was hoping against hope that just like last year the I-League teams would come around, Minerva Punjab FC did not turn up for their qualifier against FC Pune City on Friday and it remains to be seen how the federation reacts.  

There is no doubt that the AIFF president is a busy man but in the age of communication, it is difficult to understand why Patel or anyone in the federation hasn’t been able to even set up a date for a meeting as asked by the clubs in a letter dated February 18, 2019.

The letter had sought a meeting with Patel to know whether there was any substance in media reports suggesting that this could be the last season of the I-League and address issues like the possible options for merger of ISL and I-league, the AFC report on the topic and the interference of Football Sports Development Limited in the federation’s affair.

In the letter, the clubs also proposed that they were open to the idea of ISL clubs not facing relegation in the new unified league “as long as required per contracts already signed between relevant parties” but were against being relegated to second division due to restructuring of leagues.

The letter also stated that they had written to Patel requesting for a meeting in the past as well but did not get a response.

It was the lack of communication after the latest letter that miffed the clubs, who then decided to boycott the Super Cup as a pressure tactic since the tournament has very little significance for any participating teams as it does not offer any Asian competition berth.

All stakeholders are hurt

Though there have been a few back channel negotiations with the teams, there still hasn’t been any official response from AIFF on the meeting request or the possible road-map for the I-League and the clubs participating in it.

The bigger worrying factor for Indian football is that AIFF, the guardians of the sport in the country, have been silent on most issues hurting the sport.

Earlier this month, seven women football players had alleged favouritism and withdrawn from the national camp prior to the Gold Cup and Turkish Women’s Cup. Despite all seven players being India internationals, the AIFF is yet to clear its stand on the issue or respond to the players’ concerns.

Even if the federation felt that the players were in the wrong, it had to send a clear message to them by officially backing the coaching staff. But even that hasn’t been done.

The problems within the AIFF were further highlighted when their technical committee chairman Shyam Thapa insisted that they were in the dark on the possible appointment of the new Indian coach and they have this time asked the federation to provide them with the credentials of the shortlisted candidates once the process starts. The post has been vacant since Stephen Constantine announced his exit after the AFC Asian Cup at the start of this year.

Thapa hinted that the AIFF normally shortlisted two-three candidates before the technical committee deliberates on the appointment of a new coach and have not even been given the CVs of those candidates in the past.

“In the last meeting, I asked them to send the CVs of all the short-listed coaches, to all members. The AIFF has agreed to this. And you see, that should be the procedure. Unless, we the technical committee members get to know the credentials of the coaches how can we discuss,” he was quoted as saying.

Thapa’s revelations gives strength to the I-League clubs allegations that the AIFF has outsourced the job of running the sport in India to its marketing partners. And it is time, Patel and company come out of their hibernation and address the concerns head on, for their own sake and for the greater good of Indian football.