AIFF to Strictly Follow Transparency in Financial Dealings, to Address Trust Deficiency: Saji Prabhakaran

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been suffering from trust deficit for some time and the new administration’s endeavour is to build a positive image of the organisation with emphasis on transparency in financial dealings, a top official said.

The committee of administrators which ran the affairs of the AIFF before being disbanded in August had informed the Supreme Court that the forensic audit of the federation accounts had prima facie revealed massive siphoning of funds by its previous management headed by former union minister Praful Patel.

“Trust (of the public) towards the AIFF was missing due to whatever had happened earlier. We have to restore that, and we will do it,” AIFF secretary general Saji Prabhakaran told PTI in an interview.

“We are serious, this organisation is answerable (to the public) and that is why we are stressing on transparency.”

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He said the AIFF is waiting for the forensic report which could be used in reforming the financial aspect of its administration.

“We are eagerly waiting because this matter is in the Supreme Court. Once the forensic audit report comes to us, we are ready to take whatever actions are required, because it is fundamental for us to have a sound and transparent financial management system,” he said.

“That forensic audit report will tell us what are the gaps. Once we get the report we will be able to act as swiftly as possible. We want to understand the gaps, if there was serious bungling or whatever corruption happened that report will show us. That report will be the basis for our reform on the financial part.”

The Supreme Court in an earlier hearing had asked for an interim and final report of the forensic audit of the AIFF — which indicated large scale siphoning and defalcation of funds by the Patel-led executive committee — to be submitted to the sports ministry and orally directed it to proceed under law.

“Confidence (of the public) will come from our transparent work, open communication. We are not developing a nuclear project. We are developing players, football development. This has to be as open as possible,” Prabhakaran, who took charge on September 7, said.

“We are talking of plans of more than 20 years. We have to except the problems. Our youth players and women players are not getting competitive games, we have several weakness. We have to accept that and try to find out solutions,” he said referring to the roadmap the new AIFF office bearers will reveal in the second half of this month.

Women’s football development is one of the priority areas of the new dispensation and Prabhakaran said the national league (IWL) will be restructured.

“We will have the new structure of the women’s league (IWL) from next season. There will be divisions also. They (women players) should have economic value, that will be the focus.”

He said the senior men’s team will play international friendly matches in all the FIFA windows of the coming year, so that the players can prepare well for the AFC Asian Cup, to be held in Qatar in January 2024.

“We will not be missing any FIFA international friendly days to prepare well for the Asian Cup. In the last two months, we are in the hunt to find teams (for international friendly matches), we are constantly working on it.

“We will give the team enough matches according to what the coach wants. The tournament will be in the middle of season and it will be a good situation. It is an opportunity for us to prepare optimally and showcase our ability.”

Prabhakaran also defended the AIFF’s decision to pull out of the race to host the 2027 Asian Cup. He, however, said that the AIFF will reconsider making bids for big tournaments in four years’ time.

“It (hosting 2027 Asian Cup) is a serious investment, we have to divert a lot of focus, attention, resources towards that. But we have to act strategically, what is the value we want to derive from that. It should be very concrete and tangible.

“We have to think whether we will be gaining commercially, or gaining on development aspect of the team. One is the economic part, one is the football growth part and impact overall. That is very scientific.

“We think right now we are not ready for that. Our focus right now will be on capacity building. We have to make our team strong, have strong competitions, strong structure, good governance.”

He said performance of the team is also important when the AIFF opts to bid for big events.

“We have to see whether we have players or team who can compete because we cannot expose ourselves. We cannot show ourselves as weak. Right now whatever we are thinking or planning, it does not fit in. May be four years later, it can fit in.”

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