Sports FOOTBALL The threat of a FIFA ban looms over India...

The threat of a FIFA ban looms over India and Chhetri’s hopes to overtake Messi

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IIf Estonia missed Lionel Messi’s five goals this month, India’s legendary striker Sunil Chetri will be second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of top international scorers. The 37-year-old has 84 goals, two fewer than the Argentine, after scoring four in the just-completed third round of 2023 Asian Cup qualifying.

This trophy helped India win all three games and reach their second consecutive appearance at the continent’s biggest tournament. However, Chhetri is a little worried that he will not be able to participate in the tournament, and not because there is currently no host after China stepped down from those duties last month. The concern is that India could be banned by FIFA.

“I hope everything goes just as well for the sport and the country doesn’t get banned,” Chhetri said this month. “The ban will not only be a disaster for the whole country, but for me, because I’m 37. You never know when the last game will be for you.” After the captain had his say, national team coach Igor Shtimats told those in charge of the game in a country of 1.4 billion people to “wake up.”

Igor Shtimak, head coach of the Indian national team, in last year’s photo. Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock

Although the national team is becoming a permanent fixture in continental competitions, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is in turmoil. Praful Patel succeeded Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who had been in power since 1988 but ended her term bedridden, as president in 2008. The rise of Patel, a member of the FIFA Council and Vice President of the Asian Football Confederation, has been milder in the football world than in India. During his tenure, the fortunes of the various national teams fluctuated, conditions improved, but the internal game was constantly changing due to restructuring, and AIFF’s signing of a 15-year commercial deal with Reliance in 2010 is still controversial.

In March, the sports ministry issued its verdict and reduced its funding federations by 85% in 2022-23 compared to 2019-2020, with reports suggesting this was due to the poor performance of the national team, disappointment in the performance of teams of different ages, and concerns about women’s football. The AIFF was encouraged to focus on the grass roots. The Supreme Court was ordered to deal with the federal election situation.

This marked the end of Patel’s tenure. His third term, the maximum allowed, ended in December 2020, but a new election in which he would not have been able to run was not held (according to Patel, a constitutional issue had to be resolved first) and he remained in place. The court appointed a committee of administrators (CoA) of three to take charge. Initially, it was assumed that new elections could be held by the end of June. Now we are talking about September.

Sunil Chetri climbed the highest during India's game against Bangladesh in Doha last June.
Sunil Chetri climbed the highest during India’s game against Bangladesh in Doha last June. Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock

FIFA has something to say about this. Other Asian countries such as Kuwait and Indonesia have suffered bans in recent years for what the governing body has seen as government interference in the federation’s governance. Officials will visit India on Monday to check what is going on. “I don’t think FIFA would object to such a development,” said Dr. S.Yu. Quraishi, one of the three administrators. “Football elections are long overdue, the old team remained in office, and the elections were necessary. I don’t see the FIFA inconsistency issue here. We hope that FIFA will understand and cooperate and we will cooperate with them in trying to fulfill this task that the court has given us.”

In 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan called the football federation elections, which were won by Ashfaq Hussain. His win was never recognized by FIFA and he led a group that stormed the Pakistani federation’s headquarters in Lahore in March 2021, ousting FIFA’s normalization committee. Chaos remains, as does prohibition. India is different from Pakistan, a country that loves football but has all but fallen out of sight of Asian football with self-serving leaders and a national team that has played seven games in seven years and none since 2019. FIFA has given much more. attention to India as Gianni Infantino, like Sepp Blatter, regularly visited New Delhi and this provided more investment.

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The country hosted the 2017 Men’s Under-17 World Cup and will do the same for women in October. The 2022 Asian Women’s Cup took place in January and despite a slightly awkward start when the host team had to pull out after Covid busted their bubble, things went pretty well in the end with the final in which China edged out South Korea, was a thriller. India has bid to host the 2027 Men’s Asian Cup, the biggest football competition on the continent. Hosting this tournament is at some point seen as a necessary step towards hosting a World Cup in the subcontinent.

Recent events are a blow to India’s prestige, but they are nothing compared to the FIFA ban. Such an outcome is unlikely, but no one wants to drag out the situation. Due to the fact that serious reforms are taking place in domestic competitions, and a decision will be made on the venue of the 2027 Asian Cup in the near future, it is time for those in charge to do what coach Shtimak says and “wake up”, otherwise the only winner in the whole situation could well be Lionel Messi.

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