Durand Cup and IFA Shield, two of the oldest football tournaments in the world have lost their sheen, thanks to poor management. This year, the Durand Cup was played at exactly the same time when Nehru Cup was scheduled and not surprisingly, it met with a lukewarm response. The authorities focused on Nehru Cup more, not that Nehru Cup was shining example of good organization on its own. Federation Cup - the most important Cup competition in India - is now looking all set to follow the ignominious path of other Cup competitions after the disgraceful way it was handled this year. The tournament, which is effectively the season starter for most the big clubs, was managed with utmost callousness which resulted in some farcical scenarios.
Venues: To Host or Not to Host?
Problems surfaced way before the tournament actually started. The venue was changed from Ranchi to Jamshedpur among scandalous circumstances. Two week before the Federation Cup qualifiers kicked-off, an AIFF vice-president visited Ranchi and gave an all clear report on the stadium. Incredibly, few days before the kick-off, a different set of officials visited the venue and had to rule it out as it was unplayable! Within a few days Ranchi has turned from being a stadium where everything was okay to a place where football couldn’t take place. AIFF consulted a grounds-man whose report said that the stadium would be ready in two months! All this came after the stadium was given the due clearance by AIFF officials. Makes one question how qualified are these officials to determine stadium conditions, doesn’t it?
The matches had to be shifted away at the eleventh hour as AIFF once again had to reshuffle their schedule. Organizers in Jamshedpur had very little time to prepare, as a result of which, the turf condition in the new venue was also extremely poor.
Turf Condition: Where Even Cows May Not Dare
Carlos Hernandez, the Costa Rican World Cupper of Prayag United must have been unpleasantly surprised by the condition of the Jamshedpur turf. The field was muddy, tufts of grasses were coming out and it was completely uneven. There were also some puddles in the ground, some visible others covered by a layer of rain water. A Bengali daily described this field as a “death trap”. Prayag United officials were so enraged with the ground conditions and sent a protest letter to AIFF as well. Needless to say nothing changed. All matches in the venue went on as scheduled on a field which could have injured players anytime.
Things were no different in Siliguri. According to rules, teams are allowed to practice for 45 minutes in the match stadium; but authorities prevented the teams from practicing because the ground was rapidly deteriorating under rain. The ground conditions didn’t improve at all when the matches started. Just like Jamshedpur, the turf in Siliguri was unplayable as well. Players were unable to pass the ball properly through center of the field because it was covered with mud. There was cricket pitch in middle of the ground and a number of players, including Tolgay Ozbey suffered injuries because of the unplayable ground condition.
The condition was even worse in local Army ground in Siliguri, which was turned into a make shift ground. The organizers never anticipated that another ground might be required to host matches and the Army ground was completely under-prepared with uneven bounce and untended grass. It was this ground which played host to the ONGC-Sporting Clube match, which was one of the most important games in this year’s Federation Cup.
Facilities: Rather The Lack Of It
A common complaint regarding Indian football fans is that they don’t often go to grounds. There are two sides of the coin. How many times has the Federation actively participated in giving proper facilities to fans, so that they look forward to going to a stadium? The Federation Cup was no exception as the facilities handed out to the footballers and the fans were shameful to say the least.
The afore-mentioned ONGC-Sporting match was held in a makeshift ground, which didn’t even have a reserve bench. Federation Cup organizing panel was full of Nostradamuses and Octopus Pauls, so they had already crystal gazed thinking that the scenario where goal difference might come into play would not arise. The practice of holding last group matches of a tournament on the same time has been going on for three decades. Staying true to their general pace of progress in all matters related to football, Federation Cup organizers are three decades behind in their schedule making. As Group C entered a cliff hanger, where three out of four teams had a chance of qualifying, AIFF had to hastily reschedule to prevent a got-up match. This resulted in ONGC playing Sporting in local SSB ground which neither had a reserve bench, nor dressing rooms for referees and footballers. It didn’t even have proper toilet and drinking water facilities.
Being restricted area governed by Indian Army, even reporters had to sign forms to enter the ground while the authorities were kind enough to make place for a grand number of 100 spectators in the makeshift gallery. Organizers did dish out the all too predictable excuse of not having enough time to prepare. One might wonder if they will ever have “enough time” to properly organize a football tournament.
But Kanchenjungha stadium which was supposed to be “prepared” for these matches wasn’t a whole lot better. Referees had a dressing room just adjacent to player’s dressing rooms, which is a violation of FIFA rules. Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika also recounted how the VVIPs, including national team coach Wim Koevermans, didn’t have special stands to sit on. In this ground also spectators didn’t have proper toilet or water facilities. Unsurprisingly the group phase in Siliguri of Federation Cup failed to draw as much crowd as expected.
We Don’t Need No Television
The biggest disappointment of the Indian football fans from Federation Cup was undoubtedly the failure of all concerned authorities to show matches live on TV. A private television channel was reportedly roped in to show Federation Cup matches live and their website showed matches as part of schedule. All was well and good till the day of telecast came. The website swiftly removed all notifications about Federation Cup matches and eventually the high voltage clash between Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers was not shown. Soon it became clear that none of the matches would be telecast. None of the concerned authorities have given an official statement regarding this fiasco but numerous sources have revealed the complete and winding path of the passage of the buck between different bodies.
AIFF, reportedly, are blameless, as they are blameless for everything else related to football in this country. The Federation had sold rights for Indian football matches to a private TV channel few years back, effectively giving up control of telecast rights. When IMG-Reliance came to forefront, they bought the rights from the private network with AIFF playing the role which they usually play with Oscar worthy credentials - a silent spectator. IMG-Reliance reportedly had signed a one year deal for a different TV channel to show Federation Cup matches but tried to negotiate a three year deal at the very last moment. The TV channel backed out resulting in thousands of football fans missing out on action of a high profile tournament. The current edition of Federation Cup could have also been used to increase awareness among urban youth regarding problems faced in rural India. After all, playing in those muddy fields is similar to travelling on muddy roads that millions of Indians have to do day in and day out in different corners of the country. AIFF made a last ditch attempt to save their face by showing last three matches on DD Sports’ archaic broadcasting system.
This incident has also brought a big question mark over the motivation of IMG-Reliance. Are they really interested about improving football in India? Or are their main target is to start a parallel masala football league with all fluff and no substance? The organization’s attempt of starting a parallel football league was thankfully rebuffed by I-League clubs and one of the conspiracy theories doing rounds is that they took a revenge on clubs by screwing up Federation Cup telecast. AIFF staying true to their role (see above), is yet again watching helplessly as a sponsor tries to control how football should be run in the country.
At the end of the day it is the fans and the players who had to suffer. A tournament which paves the way towards prestigious AFC Cup was reduced to a complete skit.