Fifa’s decision to suspend India’s football association has cast a shadow over the future of the sport and its players in the country.
The ban, which was announced late on Monday, may prevent India from hosting the women’s Under-17 World Cup, which was set to begin on 11 October.
On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court asked the federal government to take “proactive steps” to ensure that the suspension is lifted and the World Cup goes ahead according to plan.
Fifa said it suspended the All India Football Federation (AIFF) due to “undue interference by a third party”. This occurred after India’s Supreme Court disbanded the AIFF in May and appointed a three-member committee to govern the sport.
But Fifa’s rules say its member federations must be free from legal and political interference.
While the suspension doesn’t apply to domestic tournaments, it will affect India’s participation in international matches and tournaments.
The biggest blow is to the young players who were looking forward to participating in the World Cup.
India was set to host the tournament in 2020, but this was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. It had got the opportunity to participate by virtue of being the host.
The news has disappointed players and fans.
“I was really excited to watch the World Cup. It would have been a great honour for India. But now the thought that it might not happen makes me sad,” says Sai, 17, a footballer from the western Indian city of Mumbai who didn’t make it to the team.
Indian women’s football has seen dramatic growth in recent years.
India is not the first country to be suspended under Fifa’s rule on autonomy.
Similar action has been taken against countries such as Benin, Kuwait, Nigeria and Iraq in the past. Last year, the Pakistan Football Federation was banned under the same rule but it was lifted in July 2022.
In India, AIFF was led by a former Fifa council member, Praful Patel, for more than a decade.
Patel is a member of parliament and belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party, one of India’s leading opposition parties.
Patel had completed three terms as the president of AIFF, which made him ineligible to hold the post again as per government regulations.
But he continued to stay on as president even after his term ended in December 2020 as AIFF did not hold fresh elections. This led to the Supreme Court disbanding the federation in May this year, and Mr Patel stepping down. It was then that the court appointed a three-member panel to govern the sport.
Fifa’s statement said the suspension will be lifted once the order to set up the committee is repealed and “the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs”.