The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is set to elect a former player as president for the first time ever as Bhaichung Bhutia and Kalyan Chaubey go head-to-head. On Friday, the AIFF General Body Meeting will see the election of Praful Patel's successor as AIFF President, after a tumultuous saga which also saw the AIFF being suspended by FIFA, for undue third-party interference.
While lifting the ban after 11 days, FIFA said it and the AFC would continue to monitor the situation and would support the AIFF in conducting its elections in a timely manner.
Who are the Presidential candidates?
Chaubey, a former goalkeeper, is currently a politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal. He contested and lost in the 2019 general elections in Krishnanagar. The Indian Goalkeeper of the Year in 1997-98 and 2001-02 played for both Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, while also having a stint at Goan powerhouse Salgaocar.
Bhutia, one of the nation's greatest footballers, is the second-most capped Indian men's footballer of all time and the national team's third-highest scorer. The former India captain was also presented the AFC Hall of Fame Award in 2019.
Bhutia has administrative experience, as the founder of United Sikkim FC. The club was shut down in 2019, before being revived two years later. He contested and lost in the 2014 general elections in Darjeeling as part of the All India Trinamool Congress.
Chaubey is believed to be the front-runner with backing from politically important state associations like Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh.
- Kalyan Chaubey (@kalyanchaubey) August 25, 2022
He is also said to have the support of the bulk of the state associations, who he met before officially filing his nomination. Bhutia, meanwhile, was nominated by the Andhra Pradesh FA, while his candidature was seconded by the Rajasthan FA. Bhutia claimed on Sunday that political interference was behind his home association (the Sikkim FA) not supporting him in the elections.
What have the candidates promised?
In an interview to the Times of India, Chaubey said he would do what a footballer would do for fellow footballers, should he become the president.
Chaubey also pointed to the lack of official infrastructure and the lack of professionalism in the everyday running of certain state associations. He said that it is imperative for the state associations to have their own office, which is critical for planning and policy-making. He said the AIFF would help the state associations build their own "Football House" if they had a minimum area of 10,000 sq.ft. He also pointed out the need to have equal focus on both men's and women's football for the development of the sport in the country.
Bhutia said that his priority would be to make the state associations improve financially, so that top players and coaches can be produced in each state. He lamented that a lot of state associations are not conducting their own leagues, before asking how they could produce quality players without their own leagues and grassroots programs.
Other posts that elections are being held for
In addition to the Presidential election, the vice-president and treasurer will also be elected.
Karnataka FA president NA Haris will be up against the Rajasthan's Manvendra Singh for the vice-president's post, while Andhra State Association president Gopalakrishna Kosaraju is up against Arunachal Pradesh federation's Kipa Ajay for the post of treasurer.
Fourteen candidates had also filed their nominations to be in the AIFF Executive Committee, and are all expected to be elected unopposed. They are GP Palguna, Avijit Paul, P. Anilkumar, Valanka Alemao, Maloji Raje Chhatrapati, Menla Ethenpa, Mohan Lal, Arif Ali, K. Neibou Sekhose, Lalnghinglova Hmar, Deepak Sharma, Vijay Bali and Syed Imtiaz Husain.
The electoral college now comprises only of representatives from the state associations affiliated to the AIFF. The FIFA suspension was lifted only after the Supreme Court's decision to withdraw the 36 eminent footballers who had been nominated to the electoral college earlier.