Why is Praful Patel's AIFF spending Rs 65 lakh on meetings?

There are some who might wonder why it took Praful Patel so long to run Indian football in to the ground. He was, some would say, much quicker with Air India.

When Praful Patel took over as Minister of State for Civil Aviation in May 2004, Air India was still making a profit -- not too much (Rs 105 crore) but enough to stay afloat. But by 2011, Air India (now merged with Indian Airlines) had a debt of over Rs 40,000 crore and an estimated loss of Rs 7000 crore. In the five years beginning 2007-08, Air India accumulated losses of close to $5.25 billion.

It didn't need a genius to figure out that something had gone very wrong. Two things came to mind instantly -- the decision to merge Air India and Indian Airlines and the order for 111 Boeing aircraft valued at Rs 450 billion. Two things that initially looked like master-strokes but on closer examination sounded the death knell for the national airline.

There were also allegations that he used his position as civil aviation minister to systematically direct Air India to withdraw from its profit-making routes in the Gulf region, which were immediately taken over by Jet Airways. And that in turn led to losses that put the airline in the red.

Praful Patel needs to do more than just shake hands with Sepp Blatter. Reuters

Praful Patel needs to do more than just shake hands with Sepp Blatter. Reuters

As a piece in The Caravan pointed out: "Patel had been cornered in the Rajya Sabha by a battery of non-Congress parliamentarians, who used the time allotted for “calling attention” to launch a series of allegations against the ministry: that the merger had been misguided, mismanaged and not approved by Parliament; that the 2005 aircraft purchase order had been conducted hastily and without due diligence; that the airlines—which had both posted profits in 2003, 2004 and 2005—had begun making enormous losses even before the onset of the global recession; that private domestic and international carriers had received preferential treatment from the ministry; and, most damning, that “middlemen” and corruption had influenced the making of aviation policy."

Patel emerged pretty much unscathed from the incident and is now the Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises but the same cannot be said of the airline. Now, something similar is happening with Indian football.

Patel took over as president of the AIFF in 2009 by default. He was the senior most vice-president when Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who had reigned as head of the national football body for 20 years, was too sick to continue in the post, Patel stepped in.

But nothing changed for Indian football, which has continued to remain in a state of deep coma. In 1993, India was ranked 100 in the FIFA rankings. By 2009, the team had dropped to 134 and currently, they stand at 145. It might get worse after the loss against Afghanistan in the SAFF Cup.

Now Patel is the President of All India Football Federation, President of Western India Football Association and Vice President of Maharashtra Olympic Association. Simply put, he is in a position of influence and can really make things happen if he so wishes to. But as usual, he is trapped in an intricate web of his own making and is plagued by wrong analysis and wrong remedies.

Patel believes that initiating India's bid for the U-17 2017 World Cup and the IMG-Reliance football league are the answers to India's problems but he couldn't be more wrong.

In reality, India's is being held back by the lack of a proper calendar for international matches and no grassroot-level coaching.

For example, India played a friendly in February against Palestine, competitive matches were played in March in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, then a friendly against Tajikistan in August before playing the SAFF Cup. That's it. That was the international calendar.

And to make things worse, the Nehru Cup - the only international tournament held in India - is not recognised by FIFA. If India want to get better then they need to play against better, higher-ranked opposition on FIFA match days and they simply don't do that.

Then there is the IMG-Reliance football league. The league itself is a good initiative and might give the players some international exposure. But it is not the answer to India's problems - no two-month tournament can be the answer. Instead, by sidelining India's football clubs, it might destroy Indian football completely.

Disbanding the Pailan Arrows, the AIFF's developmental outfit, due to lack of financial commitment from its sponsors also cannot be the answer. Find a way - ask IMG-R to find a way and some sponsors while they are at it.

India's problems, it is clear, are not at the league level. They are all at the grassroot and planning level and somebody needs to tell Praful Patel that in clear, lucid terms.

Paul Masefield, Ex-English Footballer and TV Pundit at ESPN Star Sport, was in India to conduct coaching camps recently and his one take away from the trip was that everybody in India thought they were Messi but with a catch.

"The basics are just not there. Control and dribbling skills are not good. The thought process is cumbersome. In Goa, it’s slightly better, they have the knowledge. But in other places, it was quite bad — the skills just haven’t been taught. Yet, everyone thinks they are Lionel Messi,” he had said in an interview to Firstpost.

Given the current scenario, how does it make sense to try and host the Under-17 2017 World Cup? It will be a colossal waste of money. Money that could be used to really help the game.

The AIFF's budget for FY 2013-14 (reproduced below) makes for interesting reading. Their total income is projected to be Rs 54,53,35,000. And their expenditure is Rs 54,38,61,600. Meaning AIFF had a surplus of just Rs 14,73,400.

Now, of course, things could have read differently if the 'meeting expenses' during 2013-14 were not Rs 65,00,000 (that's a lot of tea, coffee and biscuits). Salary and Adminintration expenses amount to Rs 50,000,000. The Media Department works up a bill of Rs 22,09,600.

On paper, the AIFF is spending Rs 98,76,000 on coaching and Grass root Development but we see no results and that much should be obvious to Patel, who likes to think of himself as a man who gets things done. This is a chance for him to do something. Well, he has had five years to do something and precious little of consequence has happened.

In his spare time (when he isn't running the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises or the AIFF) Patel runs the Rs 400 crore CeeJay Group, the largest beedi maker in Maharashtra. It is a successful enterprise which has even earned him the nickname 'Beedi King' of India. But he should avoid doing an Air India to Indian football -- the sport couldn't take it. Really, once was enough.

You can check out the AIFF Budget for FY 2013-14 here:

All India Football Federation_Budget-FY 2013-14

Published Date: Sep 13, 2013 07:21 AM | Updated Date: Sep 13, 2013 07:27 AM