Praful Patel trying to torpedo tournament, says Supreme Court

IN SCATHING remarks directed at former Indian football chief Praful Patel, the Supreme Court said on Monday that he was “trying to torpedo the tournament” after it was informed that FIFA’s suspension of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) would result in the country losing the right to host the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for October.

Heading a two-judge bench hearing the application to dissolve the Committee of Administrators (CoA) running the daily affairs of AIFF, a visibly upset Justice D Y Chandrachud said, “You tell us that there is an objection and you torpedo the tournament. Mr Praful Patel is trying to torpedo the tournament. You try it also now. We will deal with you.”

He was responding to an assertion from a counsel representing a state association that one or two states may have objections on the appointment of returning officers for the forthcoming elections to the Executive Council of AIFF after the court decided to dissolve the CoA.

The exchange took place as the bench, also comprising Justice A S Bopanna, was dictating its order on the appointment of returning officers. At this point, Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the court-appointed CoA, urged Justice Chandrachud to add that it is being done “with the consent of the state associations”.

Agreeing, Justice Chandrachud added in the order that “there being no objection to their continuance by any of the contesting parties before this Court, including the member associations representing the States/Union Territories”.

The counsel, who had raised the issue of objections, said his instruction was that some state associations feel it won’t be productive to present them before the court at this stage. It was then that Justice Chandrachud delivered the remarks against Praful Patel, the NCP leader and former Union minister.

Finally, the court recorded that “there is no objection” from the state associations.

Earlier in the hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Patel, said he supported what Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had submitted.

Conveying the concerns raised by FIFA to the Government, mainly on third-party interference, Mehta had prayed for dissolution of the CoA and expeditious conduct of the elections, apart from suggesting how the constitution of the AIFF Executive Council would be.

“I support everything that the Solicitor General has said. I do not want to be any office-holder in this organisation at all,” said Sibal, on behalf of Patel. “We had wanted the elections to be held earlier. Unfortunately, it was delayed. That’s how I continued. Because I am an elected member in FIFA, I wanted the Cup (under-17 Women’s World Cup) to come here, I brought the Cup here. But I knew what was running in their minds, so therefore I conveyed it.”

Justice Chandrachud then asked Sibal whether Patel had any plans to step down from FIFA since the AIFF elections would be held now. Sibal replied, “I am elected there.”

As a debate ensued among the counsel on Patel’s FIFA election, Sibal said on behalf of Patel, “I do not want to contest any post. There is no issue at all. I want football to be promoted…I brought the under-17 World Cup”.

Sankaranarayan, meanwhile, reminded the bench that a contempt petition was also pending with regard to the developments.

“Contempt is with reference to the role that has been played by somebody who has been removed by this court, sitting with the very people who are representing the state associations and arguing before this court,” Sankaranarayanan said.

“We have the recording and the transcript that we have placed to show that promises are made saying we have got this letter for you, please use this to convince the Government of India to file an application to recall the order of August 3 (directing the CoA to expeditiously conduct elections). Then you yourself also file applications. It’s extremely damaging,” he said.

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As the bench said it could issue notice, Sibal prayed to the court not to do so and deal with it another day. Sankaranayanan said his instructions were that the contempt application may not be pressed at this stage.

On August 10, the CoA had filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against Patel accusing him of “impliedly” admitting to having “arranged” a letter from FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC), threatening a ban on India.

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