The AIFF welcomed a new President after over a decade, and there is optimism that it represents a new start for Indian football's governing body. Whether that optimism is justified or not, only time will tell. Nonetheless it does bring into focus that there is a lot to do in Indian football at the moment. Thus, it's the perfect time for a goal-setting exercise.
While many of these goals do not come strictly under the sole purview of the president, they will be able to influence these to a great degree.
Ensure wellbeing of the U-17 women's team
The Alex Ambrose sexual misconduct case is still worryingly without closure. He has filed a countersuit against the AIFF, but it is understood that the Delhi Police have filed a case under the POCSO act. The U-17 team have a World Cup to play, and arranging for their mental wellbeing ought to take priority, as well as being transparent on the progress in Ambrose's case.
National team contracts
Igor Stimac's contract renewal was put on pause due to the Committee of Administrators coming in and the resulting upheaval in Indian football's administration. The Croatian has plenty of detractors who were left unsatisfied with his performance as head coach of the Indian men's national team, but having taken them through to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, he deserves a shot at performing at that tournament. Given the tumultuous nature of Indian football of late, perhaps a bit of consistency might help the national team perform well, as opposed to having a new coach come in and impose his ideas.
The women's side has Thomas Dennerby at the helm, although he has to constantly switch between taking charge of various age groups. AIFF ought to appoint separate head coaches and stick with them at the junior level, while retaining Dennerby's input of course.
Restitution for Gokulam Kerala
While FIFA's ban lasted just shy of two weeks, it was enough to see the dreams of Gokulam Kerala's women's side go up in smoke. They were barred from appearing at the AFC Women's Champions League after travelling to Uzbekistan. The personal injury to many of their squad (who also were part of India's ill-fated AFC Asian Cup ouster due to a Covid breach) cannot be made up for. Yet, AIFF can provide compensation to the club, who lost out financially as well, through no fault of their own.
We are grateful to everyone who extended their support towards our women's team in the last few days. These players are our family and we will comeback stronger than ever.
- Gokulam Kerala FC (@GokulamKeralaFC) August 20, 2022
Ratify AIFF's Constitution
Amidst the fiasco of FIFA suspending AIFF, what got left by the wayside was the new AIFF constitution. This had been submitted by the CoA but spawned a raft of problems as FIFA intervened. Six 'eminent' players (basis: number of caps for India, four men and two women) are still going to be part of the executive committee, with voting rights. But the new constitution must be ratified at the earliest by the AIFF general assembly.
AIFF's financial audit
The CoA had already begun the process of auditing AIFF's finances over the last few years, and preliminary investigations unearthed some evidence of misdoings. Corruption would undermine any efforts at reform within the AIFF, and a new president ought to ensure that not just the central body, but also the state associations have their house in order, at least financially, with independent, frequent, third-party audits.
The AIFF's budget was reduced 85% by the Centre after 'non-performance' of the Indian team, and this is crippling for any new president attempting to change things. Money dictates much of what is possible in Indian football, and bringing in new sponsors and investment should be chief among the president's duties. A byproduct of having regularly audited finances would see sponsors far more willing to invest, as there would be transparency in how the money is utilised. Additionally, AIFF's deal with FSDL is up for renewal in 2025, and should AIFF's financial situation improve, they should be in a far stronger position to negotiate a favourable deal.
Ensure parity for women's football
This is a huge failing of previous administrations, and given that there will only be one woman in the 20-member strong executive committee (Valanka Natasha Alemao), alongside two ex-players, Tababi Thongam and Pinky Magar, this problem could continue. The U-17 Women's World Cup in India ought to provide a fillip to the popularity of the game, but as it stands, there's not much after it. The Indian Women's League taking place in 2022 after two years was a start, but it needs to be longer, with a proper pyramid underneath it. If the ISL could mandate every club to take part in the Durand Cup, perhaps the answer could also lie in a similar mandate for every ISL franchise having women's sides.
Ensure ISL follows AFC roadmap
India is already well aware of the pitfalls of defying FIFA/AFC statutes, and running parallel top-tier leagues in perpetuity is not feasible. According to the AFC roadmap, the 2022-23 champions of the I-League will qualify for the ISL without paying the participation fee, while promotion and relegation comes in at the end of the 2024-25 season. A proper three-tier pyramid with the ISL at the top, followed by the I-League and I-League 2 under it could be the eventual outcome - with a similar goal for women's football, although that might be longer-term.
In addition, the ISL needs to accommodate a longer football calendar. The current system including the Durand Cup, ISL and the Super Cup does run for eight months, which is a start, but having the top-tier league spread over 10 months, with cups intertwined within, like the rest of football's top leagues, is the end-game here.
Support State FAs
Chaubey did also promise improved funding for state associations as part of his election manifesto - the cynic would note that given it's the state FA's that are voting, this promise seems 'inspired'. Yet, it remains a genuine requirement - many associations struggle to run leagues, and even amongst those that do, it's often just operated as an obligation to be fulfilled. Many are downright amateurish organisations and money would restore professionalism to their setup. Clubs and player unions should also get a say in the functioning of their governing body (more on that later.)
Improving India's grassroots system is a multi-pronged approach - there needs to be sustained interest from youngsters in taking football up professionally, which is then fostered by a plethora of well-educated coaches and academies, who can churn out footballers to take part in regular, zonal tournaments throughout the year.
At present, India has a lack of interest from youngsters - the Baby Leagues initiative has all but disappeared. Hosting 'youth tournaments' which run for three days as a PR exercise serves no one, and we have a massive dearth of coaches in India (1 for every 500,000). To top it all off, youth development in India places way too much importance on 'exposure tours'. These ought to be additive to the developmental process, not the entirety of it as it currently stands.
Far greater results would be had using the money for exposure tours to develop and promote local, zonal tournaments that take place frequently. India is a large country, and asking clubs and academies to travel the length and breadth of it for youth football serves little purpose.
India's approach to football development remains a top-down approach - hosting big tournaments, and promoting top-tier leagues alone. These will work in the short-term, but eventually, the need to move towards a bottom-up approach will arise.
A president can influence the trajectory of Indian football with a long-term plan, with inputs from clubs and players too. Increasing budgets to invest in grassroots football, heavily promoting the development of coaches by inviting experts from recent success stories like Iceland, Germany and Spain might be useful. This is a patient process, with results that will only be seen a decade from now, which inherently places it at odds with a four-year term of a president.
Stakeholders in administration
Clubs and players are the lifeblood of Indian football, but as things stand, they have no say in how the game functions. The CoA's proposal of 36 'eminent' ex-players to be part of the general assembly in elections was a well-intentioned, if misguided, start. It'd be far more prudent to have players be part of the administrative process at local levels and working their way up.
India also has a player's union, but it has no seat at the table at present. Renedy Singh, president of the FPAI is set to be part of the executive committee, but it would be better to have a formalised spot for the head of the player union, as well as a couple of deputies involved in the voting decisions of Indian football.
State FA's currently monopolise the voting process, as outlined by FIFA's statutes. However, clubs and franchises also deserve voting rights in the executive committee - a few spots for representative of clubs (elected, of course) would aid in having a far more participatory system in Indian football, with all stakeholders represented.