Praful Patel, the President of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), could continue in his office beyond December 2020 when his stint was originally supposed to end, due to various circumstances.
Patel has been officially holding office since 2012 and is in his second term as the elected supremo of the AIFF. However, recent developments which have virtually frozen the game on and off the field is likely to extend the AIFF supremo's tenure.
The 2020 U17 Women's World Cup, set to be held in India, was postponed due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic which is sweeping across the globe. With uncertainty over the tournament's rescheduling, it is highly unlikely that AIFF will opt to hold elections and undergo a change in leadership before the event is completed.
It has to be noted that Patel played a key role in India landing hosting rights for the 2020 Women's U17 World Cup as the head of the Local Organising Committee. He is also a current member of the FIFA Council.
A precedent has already been set by the French Football Federation (FFF). Taking into account the disruptions to the game due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the FFF have already pushed back their Presidency elections by three months. It was initially supposed to be held on 12 December but now will take place on March 13, 2021. This sees Noel Le Graet's mandate extended and the AIFF could also adopt something similar in Patel's case.
Another factor that could play a role in Patel's tenure extending is the former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi's mandate to formulate a new consitution for the AIFF. It has been something of a long-standing issue now.
SY Quraishi, along with former India goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly, was appointed by the Supreme Court of India as the ombudsman to formulate the AIFF constitution in November 2017 after overturning a decision by the Delhi High Court to cancel the election of Praful Patel as AIFF supremo in 2016.
The Delhi High Court had said the elections were held without following the National Sports Development Code of 2011.
The Supreme Court had asked Quraishi to draft a consitution within eight weeks initially but that task is yet to be completed. Even then, Quraishi had made it clear on many occasions that he intented to include provisions for barring public servants from holding office or contesting elections in the AIFF.
The constitution, if submitted and approved, could force Patel out prematurely. But it is highly unlikely to happen due to a variety of reasons. AIFF will most certainly challenge Quraishi's proposed constitution in court and initiate a process that could see any resolution delayed. It must be noted that AIFF's current consitution is in line with FIFA and AFC regulations.
Also, current Union Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Kiren Rijiju had stated in January 2020 that the central government may come up with a new sports code. If it does so, there will be questions on whether the Quraishi's proposed consitution conforms to the new code or not, furthering strengthening AIFF's case in court.
The AIFF is also likely to point out discrepancies with the constitution Quraishi drafted previously for the Archery Association of India (AAI).
Quraishi had amended the AAI constitution as per the revised draft of the 2015 National Sports Development Code and subsequently conducted fresh elections in 2018. However, the Maharashtra Archery Association (MAA) challenged it and entered a plea in the Supreme Court.
The amended constitution was also not approved by the general council of AAI with Quraishi bypassing the voting body before submitting it to the Supreme Court.
The MAA had argued that Quraishi has exceeded his mandate as Administrator of the AAI by incorporating provisions from the revised 2015 National Sports Code as well as the Justice Lodha panel’s recommendations for the BCCI (Board of Control of Cricket in India).
The Supreme Court duly refused to acknowledge the elections held under the amended constitution on December 22, 2018, and ordered a fresh set of elections to be held in the next four weeks before setting aside the amended constitutiton.
Last year, Quraishi had stated that he wanted to bring many of the same provisions adopted in the amended AAI constitution to the AIFF as well. However, given the way the AAI constitution prepared by Quraishi fared, it is more than likely that AIFF will seek legal recourse against it if and when it is submitted.
Significantly, Quraishi and Ganguly, have already missed the deadline to submit the constitution on multiple occasions. For example, they were asked to submit the same within eight weeks. This was in November 2017. Quraishi went on to claim later that it will be prepared before April 18, 2018.
Complications with the AAI consitution meant, Quraishi then failed to submit it even in 2019 and was supposed to do so by February 2020. However, it has still not materialised.
In short, it looks highly unlikely that Quraishi's constitution amendment will likely end Patel's stint at the AIFF. Coupled with the reschedulement of the Women's U17 World Cup amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more than likely that the former Union minister will continue to be at the helm of affairs at the Indian FA beyond December 2020.
Praful Patel's stint as the AIFF supremo has seen some groundbreaking developments in Indian football including the advent of the Indian Super League and the national team breaching the top-100 in FIFA rankings. India also hosted their first ever FIFA tournament in 2017 - the U17 World Cup which was a huge success.