This is going to be a funny piece, so why not start it on a similar note?
Am I a Joke To You refers to a reaction image of a stern-looking man with the caption “am I a joke to you?”
You must have encountered/shared/received this meme at some point in the past. An Indian football fan, waiting for a single league structure, relates to it, and asks the question in discussion to the governing body, the All India Football Federation, everytime they make a claim too utopian to be true.
In December 2018, President Praful Patel claimed that India can make it to the 2026 World Cup. It’s not the first time an AIFF official has made such a starry-eyed claim with nothing but mere words to back for it though. This has been the trend for the last few years, and blatant promises have been the order of the day.
Let us bring you to reality. For the first time in the history of Indian football, seven clubs have boycotted a major tournament organized by the AIFF, with no confidence or believe in the future. All these clubs want is a resolved roadmap to the future, but didn’t get it. After seven-odd months of coaxing and goading, the President gave relented and gave them a date for a meeting.
The future looks clear – its uncertain. The revolting clubs have proposed a plan, encompassing every angle and monetary requirement into the loop, but it looks unlikely to be put into action with ego battles in the way. Has your boss ever implemented your ideas when you’ve been at war against him? No way, right. Connect the dots yourself.
Never in history has such a standoff been seen in India. Sometimes, during the 70s, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan used to pull out of tournaments due to injuries to important players or their absence due to international call-ups. Salgaocar and other clubs ignored winter tournaments due to Christmas and because it was too cold in Delhi, but the number never touched five, let alone seven.
The big three Calcutta clubs – it used to be Calcutta back then – Mohammedan Sporting, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan boycotted a tournament was the 1979 Federation Cup in Guwahati. There was an anti-bengali feeling to the scenario and the Assam agitation was on. A similar situation, that basically has led to the formulation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, was prevalent at that time, and Bangladeshis had entered the state. It was a political stand-off, and certainly one that was reasonable for security reasons.
This one isn’t. Its footballing to the core, and something is clearly amiss that it has come down to this. Even I-league champions, the Chennai City FC, were part of this ‘rebel’ group until recently. They gave in, probably because they needed a go-ahead letter from the Federation to participate in the AFC Champions League, a slot they won while lifting the title.
If this case goes to the Court of Arbitration of Sport, the rebel group surely looks to be on the right side. Ranjit Bajaj, owner of Minerva Punjab FC, recently said in an interview that he intends to do so, and that may ring a bell that’s already nearing danger. Although recent developments have left the Minerva Punjab owner tweeting that he might be closing down the shop, like several others before. What next?
Another joke from the Federation. And it’ll go on until the death of Indian football. The AFC has already proposed a roadmap, but there must be something in it too that has stopped them from applying it. What could that be? Not the kind of financial hegemony they expect? Or not the kind of preference given to FSDL like it was, since the evolution of the Indian Super League?
It could be anything. Until it all resolves, we’d just live on memes and ask the same question again and again, “Are we a joke to you?” with the reaction image of a stern-looking man.