What’s at stake as FIFA bans Indian Football Federation?

For the girls of Sree Gokulam Kerala FC – India’s top women’s football club – the August 16 flight from Kozhikode to Tashkent was not just between two cities. It was between two different emotions – hope and despair.

Shortly after landing in Uzbekistan to play in the AFC Women’s Club Championship – Asia’s top women’s club competition – they were told about the news. FIFA had banned the Indian Football Association (AIFF) for “excessive interference by a third party”.

The action meant that the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, which was to be hosted by India in October, was put on hold. This move will also have larger negative implications for gambling in the country. This meant that national football teams could not participate in FIFA tournaments, which included Asian Cup and World Cup qualifying matches.

So why has FIFA taken this extreme step?

The AIFF’s constitution and elections have been at the center of a dispute between FIFA and the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA).

The CoA had prepared a draft constitution which the organs of the state assembly initially opposed. He also decided to form an executive committee that would involve 50-50 representation of voting players and members of the state assembly. FIFA saw this as a violation of the rules and a departure from what had previously been agreed.

FIFA wants the AIFF administration to be put back in charge of day-to-day operations, a review of the constitution and an independent electoral committee overseeing the elections. The Supreme Court has told the government to take “proactive steps” with FIFA and redress the situation.

The Women’s Under-17 World Cup is due to start in mid-October and ticket sales for the event started earlier this month. Experts say that while it is difficult to quantify exactly how much loss the AIFF could suffer due to publicity, media and other deals, it is likely to be minimal if the tournament ends up leaving India. According to FIFA, the investment in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup tournament is budgeted at $21 million.

If we look at the U17 Men’s World Cup hosted by India, the global brand and Indian sponsors spent relatively small amounts on TV advertising, while the broadcaster Sony spent around Rs 50-60 crore .

According to a report by FICCI, the tournament recorded the highest attendance for a FIFA Youth World Cup in history and garnered the highest number of viewers among international football tournaments broadcast in India. Currently, there are only global brands and no national brands associated with the Women’s World Cup, but they could come closer to the tournament.

Viacom 18 is the broadcast partner for the upcoming Women’s Under-17 World Cup. But more than the Women’s World Cup, experts say the ban will have bigger financial implications for India’s overall football ecosystem.

If the ban continues, the AIFF will also be deprived of funding from FIFA, which could lead to strains on the federation’s finances. According to a Trade standard report, 40-50% of football sponsors’ money could be affected by the ban. Advertisers could also withdraw some of their investments in football leagues such as the Indian Super League.

After the success of the Chess Olympiad, the Under-17 Women’s World Cup would have given sports other than cricket another leg up in India not only in terms of eyeballs but also private capital. It is unfortunate that the tournament is mired in an administrative slowdown.

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