'We've held elections for 900 million people, what's 90 people?'
Indian football is under a cloud of uncertainty following the Delhi High Court's decision on Tuesday to set aside the December 2016 election of All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel. But there are few doubts in the mind of SY Quraishi, the man who was appointed by the court to serve as administrator to the AIFF and conduct fresh elections in five months' time, about getting the job done.
His confidence comes in part from his experience as the former chief election commissioner of India in 2011 and 2012. "We have conducted elections for 90 crore [900 million] Indians. I don't think conducting elections for 90 people [roughly the electorate of the AIFF] will be nearly as challenging," Quraishi told ESPN.
This will not be the first time the 70-year-old is tasked with taking over as administrator of a national sports federation. In August, the same Delhi High Court bench had handed him charge of the Archery Association of India (AAI) and tasked him with carrying out elections for the body. He currently occupies two rooms in the Sports Authority of India office in New Delhi from where he goes about that job. He expects to carry out his work with the AIFF from the same premises and isn't concerned about taking on vested interests. "This is not a major undertaking," he says. "It is a small job. I haven't yet been contacted by anyone from the AIFF but I have no doubt I will find people in the organization that I can depend on."
Quraishi sees his task as a very simple one. "My role is very clearly defined," he says. "The Supreme Court has taken the view that the sports code has to be adopted. And in this specific case, the Delhi High Court has declared that the AIFF election in 2016 has been held void because the norms of the sports code were violated. It has appointed me as a neutral party to ensure that the election is conducted according to the correct norms. I'm to hold elections in the AIFF in five months and then step aside. I don't plan on staying as administrator indefinitely."
When he steps into his office on Friday, Quraishi will go about the job in a similar way as he did with the AAI. "I will have to take a look at the electoral rolls and update them if that has to be done," he says. "Some of the names in the rolls might be challenged by some of the state federations and that matter too will have to be sorted. In my understanding the election was declared void owing to a technicality. I will have to ensure that the electoral rolls are perfect. In the archery federation there were further challenges because two associations were competing for recognition. I will have to see if there are similar issues with the AIFF too."
Quraishi has been given five months as administrator to fix things. While the actual task of conducting an election will not take as much time, Quraishi says he might have to first ensure that the norms of the sports code are first written into the AIFF constitution. The current AIFF constitution, for instance, requires five members to nominate an individual to stand for a post on the executive committee. The sports code only requires one member to nominate the individual for election. This norm was one of the reasons for the 2016 election to be declared void.
"I assume it will take about a month or so to put things in place," he says. "In the archery federation we have to hold two elections. The first body will have to adopt the sports code into the constitution before we can conduct the second election. I have been given four months to complete the process in the archery federation and since I have been given five months as administrator of the AIFF, I assume a similar process will have to be followed."
Quraishi's task isn't just about resolving the administrative logjam. There are concerns about the conduct of domestic competition and the future of athletes. Quraishi allays these fears using the example of Indian archers. "In the last one month both camps and domestic competitions have been held," he says. "In domestic competitions we found out that some of the judges were woefully underpaid so we tried to pay them a fair amount. I made sure to talk to the players and they were happy in that there was no change in their preparations. We have been able to send teams for international tournaments and the athletes have competed and won medals too. So fears of disruption to the sport will likely not happen."
He also is confident that the AIFF's fate will not mirror that of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFA). Last month FIFA, football's world governing body, banned the PFA after a court-appointed administrator took over the functioning of the latter. "I have heard from reports that the international body (FIFA) might ban the Indian federation," Quraishi says. "There were similar concerns in archery too but that were not justified."
Indeed, Quraishi says he hopes in time he would not be called upon to step into a sports federation and conduct elections at all. "It would be sensible if every federation falls in line and adopts and adheres to the sports code," he says. "Unless you hold free and fresh elections, you will find people hanging around for 40 years or more."