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SC unhappy with Praful Patel's 'interference' in AIFF functioning

India is due to host FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup from October 11, 2022

praful-patel-aiff (File) Praful Patel

The Supreme Court on Thursday warned the state football associations of "exercising its authority" if ousted AIFF chief and NCP leader Praful Patel attends their meetings and interferes with the administration of justice.

The top court said it will intervene if any attempt is made to sabotage the hosting of the 2022 FIFA-U-17 Women's World Cup in India.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna refused to hear the modification applications filed by the Centre and State Football Associations, and the contempt petition of the Committee of Administrators (COA) against Patel for allegedly "interfering with the proceedings" of the top court after it was informed that a meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening with FIFA authorities.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been at the centre of a controversy after it failed to hold timely elections due to a delay in finalising its constitution, a key requirement for the prestigious tournament to be held in the country.

As the delay persisted, the apex court appointed a three-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) comprising former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, ex-Supreme Court judge Anil Dave and former India football captain Bhaskar Ganguly to run the day-to-day affairs of the AIFF.

Patel, despite being ousted by the SC, allegedly held a meeting with 35 Intervening Member Associations on August 6, amid the continued threat of a ban on AIFF by the world football body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation on account of non-holding of the election. Patel is an executive council member of the FIFA and vice president of AFC.

Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh, appearing for the Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports, said he has instructions to inform the court that on Wednesday a meeting with officials of the FIFA was held and another round is scheduled for Thursday evening, and efforts are being made to iron out the differences and salvage the 2022 FIFA-U-17 Women's World Cup.

"Then we will hold back our hands and we should not open up the case," the bench said and refused to hear the matters listed for hearing.

Singh said the court may record in its order that the secretary of CoA and secretary of the AIFF be allowed to be present in the meeting with the FIFA officials.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the CoA, said it would be appropriate if only the two representatives already decided by the CoA participate in the meeting with FIFA.

"We want the issue to be settled amicably. We can also read between the lines and we know who is actually appearing for whom in this matter. We are holding our balance and our sense of equipoise, and if the need arises, we will not hesitate in asserting our authority. So long the person, who is ousted is not involved and does not cause interference, we have no problem in the matter," the bench then sternly told Singh.

Singh assured the bench that the ousted entities (Patel) will not be involved.

Singh sought liberty from the court to allow them to mention the matter for urgent hearing, if a situation arose for urgent intervention by the court after the Thursday meeting with FIFA's officials.

On Wednesday, the top court had warned state football associations that it does not appreciate their "back door methods" to defeat the orders of the court and it is up to them to hold the 2022 FIFA-U-17 Women's World Cup in India.

The top court said it had passed a consent order on August 3, and the way forward is for the CoA and the union ministry to engage with the International Football Federation (FIFA) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) about hosting the international tournament.

India is due to host the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup from October 11, 2022.

On August 3, the top court had directed holding the elections to the executive committee of the AIFF expeditiously as per the schedule proposed by the COA.

The top court had said the Electoral College of AIFF will have representatives from 36 state football associations and 36 representatives of eminent football players.

The 36 representatives of eminent football players will consist of 24 male football players and 12 female players, who have played at least one international football match for India and have retired from international tournaments two years prior to the date of notification for the elections.

Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, had earlier said they have filed an application seeking modification of the SC order of August 3, after FIFA wrote to them about the roadmap being not followed.

"FIFA has said that they will withdraw the hosting rights if their agreed roadmap is not followed. This letter of FIFA is striking at the very root of the interim order and that is why we have filed the application," he said.

The state associations have said that the FIFA and the AFC were against changing the electoral college's composition insisting it amounts to a third party influencing the affairs of AIFF. They are also opposed to inclusion of individual sportspersons in the AIFF General Body, saying it violates the FIFA Statutes 2022.

On August 9, the Centre also sought modification of the SC order citing the reservations voiced by FIFA and AFC.

The apex court had on May 18 appointed a three-member CoA headed by former top court judge Anil R. Dave to manage the affairs of the AIFF and ejected Praful Patel-led executive committee which had overstayed its four-year term by two years.


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