Kalyan ahead of Bhaichung as AIFF set to get its first ‘Player President’

Winds of change were blowing over the All India Football Federation on the eve of its polls as the sports body braced up to elect a former player as its president for the first time in its 85-year-old existence. In Friday’s elections for the post of AIFF president, 45-year-old Bhaichung Bhutia, one of the biggest legends in Indian football, will have a straight fight with former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey.

While Bhutia’s candidature has got the election more traction than it would have got if he was not in fray, Chaubey, also 45, is believed to be the front-runner for the top job with backing from politically important state associations like Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh.

To put it on record, Chaubey is a BJP leader from West Bengal and there would be no marks for guessing that he does enjoy a fair amount of political currency, which is a must in these kinds of sports body polls.

There has been a lot of noise as Chaubey is believed to have the “blessings” of one of the most influential political heavyweights from the North East with active interest in Indian sports.

And many people connected to Indian football see this as the reason why Bhutia’s home state association Sikkim isn’t supporting his candidature. Elections to the other two top posts — general secretary and treasurer — will also see straight fights between two candidates.

Rajasthan Football Association president Manvendra Singh, a Congress politician (also son of former defence minister Yashwant Singh of BJP), entered the fray against N A Haris for the lone vice-president’s post. Haris is the president of Karnataka FA and a sitting Congress MLA from the state. Manvendra’s state association had seconded the candidature of Bhutia.

Andhra Pradesh state association president Gopalakrishna Kosaraju and Kipa Ajay of Arunachal Pradesh are the two candidates in the fray for the treasurer’s post. Kosaraju, who had proposed Bhutia as the presidential candidate, had on August 26 written a letter to withdraw his candidature. But sources said he had not filled up a form to withdraw and hence, his candidature remained.

The new AIFF dispensation will have lots on its plate, the foremost task among them being the smooth conduct of the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in October. After the deadline of withdrawal of candidature ended at 1pm on Tuesday, returning officer Umesh Sinha released the final list of contestants for each post for the polls. The electoral college of 34 representatives from the state associations have been issued by the returning officer.

Elections are to be held for the posts of one president, one vice president, one treasurer and 14 executive committee members. Six former players — four male and two women — will be co-opted later as executive committee members with voting rights.

All the elected office bearers — president, vice president and treasurer as well as the 14 executive Committee members who will be elected unopposed– are expected to take charge on Friday itself. The co-option of six former players — four male and two female — is also set to be done on Friday.

As only 14 candidates are in the fray for as many posts of executive committee members, all of them are set to be declared elected. They are G P Palguna, Avijit Paul, P Anilkumar, Valanka Natasha Alemao, Maloji Raje Chhatrapati, Menla Ethenpa, Mohan Lal, Arif Ali, K Neibou Sekhose, Lalnghinglova Hmar, Deepak Sharma, Vijay Bali and Syed Imtiaz Husain.

As a part of players’ representative, Bhutia, IM Vijayan, Shabbir Ali, Climax Lawrence, who have played maximum number of matches for India among male, are set to be part of EC. But, in case Bhutia wins the presidential election, the fifth most capped player will come in to fill the fourth slot, subject to the acceptance by the players themselves. Gourmangi Singh is the one who would take Bhutia’s place if he happens to win the election.

The most capped woman player, Bembem Devi is in the support staff of national team, so she is unlikely to be in the executive committee. So Tababi Thongam and Pinky Magar are expected to fill the two women’s players slot.

The polls were earlier scheduled to be held under the aegis of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) on August 28.

But, in a verdict on August 22, the SC terminated the mandate of the CoA, disallowed the inclusion of 36 former players in the electoral college and postponed the polls by a week in order to salvage the Women’s U-17 World Cup whose hosting was jeopardised after FIFA suspended the AIFF.

The world football governing body though lifted the ban on August 26, clearing the decks for India to host the Women’s U-17 World Cup in October. Known as ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ during his playing days for his goal-scoring prowess, Bhutia alleged meddling from some ruling Sikkim Krantakari Morcha (SKM) party leaders by way of pressurising the state football body president Menla Ethenpa to vote against him.

During his illustrious career, Bhutia made a total of 104 appearances for the Indian team, and retired from the sport as a player in 2011, with a then record 40 goals to his name. In 1999, Bhutia became the first Indian footballer to sign with a European club, after he was roped in by English team Bury. His career also included successful stints at prominent Indian clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Selangor and United Sikkim.

Following his retirement as a player, the former India captain managed teams like United Sikkim and also headed the AIFF’s technical committee. Bhutia’s opponent in the polls, Chaubey is a graduate from the renowned Tata Football Academy (TFA) and a pass-out of its golden batch of 1996.