ACCUSING HIM of “impliedly” admitting to having “arranged” a letter from world football governing body FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) threatening a ban on India, a Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Supreme Court filed a contempt petition on Wednesday in the apex court against former Indian football chief and NCP leader Praful Patel.
The CoA has requested the court to bar Patel from “holding any football related posts forthwith, including and not limited to positions in FIFA and AFC”, where he is a member of the Executive Council and a Vice-President, respectively.
Apart from Patel, the CoA has named seven other Indian football administrators in its petition for allegedly interfering in the “administration of justice, and the willful and flagrant disobedience” of Supreme Court orders.
“What is worse, and which is the primary cause for the present Contempt Petition, is the continuing central role of Mr Praful Patel, ex-President of AIFF, who has impliedly admitted to having arranged for the letter from FIFA-AFC, and has conducted a meeting of the 35 Intervening Member Associations on 06.08.2022 with the express purpose of interfering with the proceedings of his Hon’ble Court,” the CoA said in its petition.
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A transcript of the meeting, which is part of the petition, quoted Patel as saying: “My feeling is, please trust me… See, I can say only so many things, I cannot speak everything but I can say this much, the purpose of that letter is also to help you.”
Other state association members, according to the transcript, thanked Patel who went on to suggest future steps to the officials and added that he “did not want India to get suspended”.
Patel could not be reached for comment on the contents of the petition. The matter is likely to be taken up by the apex court on Thursday along with other petitions related to the case.
This football saga began after the AIFF failed to hold elections to appoint a new president within the set timeframe, owing to a logjam in finalising its constitution. This led to the Supreme Court appointing the three-member CoA, comprising ex-Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi, former Supreme Court judge Anil Dave, and former India football captain Bhaskar Ganguly, to run the daily affairs of the AIFF while ending Patel’s term as its president.
The CoA’s petition comes after the FIFA and AFC, in a letter dated August 5, threatened to suspend India from international football and take away the hosting rights of this year’s U-17 Women’s World Cup for alleged “deviations” from the roadmap agreed to conduct the AIFF elections.
The FIFA-AFC said they were “informed” about the alleged deviations following a Supreme Court order on August 3, which directed the CoA to expeditiously conduct elections. The court had added that the elected committee would be an interim body, which would continue for a period of three months. There was a debate over the inclusion of former players in the Electoral College as well.
On Monday, the Government, fearing a FIFA ban, filed a review application in the Supreme Court, pointing at the election timelines and the membership structure in the August 3 order.
The CoA, however, argued that “it is clear” the Government is being “misled” by State Associations, “as have FIFA-AFC who are ignorant of the duplicitous role being played by Mr Patel”, the petition noted.
The administrators pointed to the meeting between Patel and State Associations on August 6 as an example of him “consistently” abusing “his position as Council Member of FIFA to orchestrate a campaign among the State Associations to undermine the various steps taken” by the Supreme Court.
“As recently as on 06.08.2022, the very deponents before this Court on behalf of the State Associations have participated in meetings conducted by Mr Patel where he impliedly admits that letters threatening suspension from the FIFA-AFC have been obtained to ‘help’ them, and that the Government is convinced to seek a review of the order fearing the worst,” the CoA petition said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a state football official, who was present at the meeting with Patel, said: “It was an unofficial meeting, which the states are free to have. The petition filed by the CoA shows that since they aren’t able to vent their frustration on the Government, which is supporting the states, they are doing so on us.”