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Ranjit Bajaj writes: Most Indian football rumours are true, need to get rid of all termites

A Ranjit Bajaj-led advisory committee was appointed to oversee AIFF's functioning on Monday before being disbanded a day later. Bajaj writes about the feathers he ruffled in his short stay, and why he cannot be AIFF President.

Ranjit Bajaj writes: Most Indian football rumours are true, need to get rid of all termites
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Football club owner Ranjit Bajaj was named chairman of the advisory committee to assist the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) of All India Football Federation (AIFF), before the committee was disbanded in less than two days. (I-League)

By

Ranjit Bajaj

Updated: 2022-06-24T11:15:57+05:30

Last week has been a humbling experience. I am grateful to the CoA that I got this opportunity, but to make sense of recent events - where that opportunity was taken away in a day - we need to go back a few days.

I had helped in drafting the new AIFF Constitution earlier this year, but perhaps more importantly I had filed the intervention petition in court which led to Praful Patel finally being thrown out of the AIFF President's office.

Mr. Patel's plan was to not get the case listed, something he had done successfully for three years. No one was going up against him because it meant hiring a huge lawyer. I was very lucky to be getting Prashant Bhushan, who I contacted on Twitter and who very warmly agreed to take on the case. Mr. Bhushan made sure he got a date for a hearing within a week. Within 45 minutes, Praful Patel was thrown out because the court was shocked that he was still holding office. Not just that, he was using their name as a ploy to delay the elections.

Within three days of us entering the AIFF office, we found a treasure trove of information which showed corruption and blatant misuse of our resources. I was sitting there from 9 am or 10 am till 8 pm every day. I'm not going to be commenting on the kinds of things we found, because there are a lot of rumours in the public. Most of the rumours are true, that's all I can say. The kinds of things we found are so ridiculous that it shows the depths of despair, Indian football and the Indian football administration - especially at the top level - has reached.

We brought all our findings to the CoA, which thankfully has very honest people on board. They were shocked and said they would be carrying out a forensic audit to get to the bottom of the mess.

Obviously, this ruffled a lot of feathers. The moment the advisory committee was formed, there was a lot of resentment from inside AIFF, as everyone knows that if I am one of those people who have been trying to do this for a very long time, get rid of these termites who have been eating into the system from inside.

They made sure that the committee which was formed under my chairmanship was disbanded. It was disbanded because of pressure from all sides. They said FIFA this and that but the truth is that the CoA dissolved the committee even before FIFA or anyone else could tell them because they thought that it is not required as those people who were mentioned in the committee are already assisting the CoA. And the position doesn't have to be efficient because there is no honorarium, it is not an official position. I am assisting the CoA in a very special role because it is my petition that brought this change and I helped in the Constitution.

All stakeholders on board

Everyone knows me to be the biggest critic of the AIFF, but what people need to understand about the current situation is that I am involved with the AIFF's workings exactly because I'm its biggest critic. If tomorrow in the intervention petition I comment that things are still not right, Indian football will be stuck again for a very long time.

We want to make sure that we get all stakeholders on board. And when I say all stakeholders, I mean FSDL, Reliance, I-League clubs, ISL clubs, the administration, everyone involved with Indian football. There cannot be a 'my way or highway' approach from any party, everyone has to work together for the good of Indian football. That means greater inclusivity, making sure that the SOPs and the Constitution are followed. This is the only way the foundation for a great Indian football revolution can begin.

As long as we can lay a strong foundation, the work will be carried on by the generations to come. These days, skyscrapers are built in months, not years, as long as the foundation is right. We can go on to be world leaders in football, we just need to move in the right direction and have the right people at the top. We can't have people with vested interests, people who only look out for themselves, people who are looking only for profit or looking to practise nepotism and conflict of interest.

Many people keep asking me why I don't want to be AIFF President. I'll answer that here. I am the one who helped write the conflict of interest part in the Constitution, someone who has a football academy or club cannot hold such a position in the AIFF. It doesn't matter if I am honest or not. Say somebody comes and puts five crores as sponsorship money towards my club. How do you make sure that it is above board? The President has to be like Caesar's wife - always above suspicion. You cannot have anybody even raising a finger at the top hierarchy. I cannot allow myself to hold such a post.

What I can allow myself is a non-paying job where I can genuinely work for the improvement of the Indian football ecosystem. I'll always be there to serve Indian football. That's my duty and will always be my honour. But if it means fighting elections and getting into this muck, I'm not interested. People say I have to get into the system to change the system, but I think I've done enough to bring about changes. I'm not interested in this business of getting into power.

'Imagine what could have been done with the astrologer money'

My only immediate goal is to assist the CoA in getting the Constitution approved by all stakeholders and holding elections in a democratic and fair way, and getting a newly elected body in immediately as soon as possible. Hopefully well before the Under-17 World Cup. And ensuring he new committee takes over with a solid foundation that cannot be touched because of the Constitution.

I'll be a happy man then because then progress will start with or without me at the top. Yes, there will still need to be checks and balances, and yes, even if I'm outside, I will keep on initiating those checks and balances.

Here's looking forward to cleaning up all the dirt in Indian football. Here's looking forward to golden days of Indian football. Here's looking forward to a new beginning and and a new foundation.

To those who think their lives can be made easier by having me out of the AIFF, this is my message - I will not leave. Not before I make sure that every corrupt person is flushed out of the AIFF. My country is not a country which has vast amounts of money, and whatever we have should be spent wisely. We cannot afford to have corrupt officials.

It really hurts when I hear about players being forced to travel in unreserved compartments and standing all the way, because I was one of those players one day. Given that over 20 lakhs rupees is being spent on an astrologer, imagine how many train journeys could have been made comfortable with that money.

(The writer is the former owner of I-League side Minerva Punjab FC, a former U-19 India footballer and an entrepreneur)

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