Taking a stern view of the ‘poor performance’ of the Indian team, the government has slashed its funding to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) by almost 85 percent over the last four years.
The federation, which has faced financial trouble in the recent past, has seen its grants under the Annual Calendar of Training and Competitions (ACTC) fall from Rs 30 crore for the financial year 2019-20 (for an 18-month period up to September 2020) to Rs 10 crore in 2020-21 and further down to Rs 5 crore this year.
It is learnt that during the ACTC meeting in New Delhi on March 29, federation officials had made proposals that were at least three times the sanctioned budget. However, the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) were not convinced.
According to the minutes of the meeting, sports secretary Sujata Chaturvedi noted: “Considering the poor performance of the Indian football team, AIFF was advised to strictly focus on the development of grassroot-level talent.”
The funds allocated to football are way less than what has been earmarked for other major sports, including athletics (Rs 30 crore), badminton, boxing, hockey, shooting (all Rs 24 crore each), archery (Rs 15.85 crore) and weightlifting (Rs 11 crore). Tennis (Rs 5.5 crore), equestrian (Rs 6 crore) and yachting (Rs 5.2 crore), too, have received a bigger budget than football for the current financial year.
A ministry official claimed the AIFF’s developmental work left a lot to be desired, highlighting the inability of age-group teams to make their presence felt at continental level and a women’s football programme that ‘lacked structure’. The performances of the national team and the ranking of the men’s side, too, were subjects of discussion during the budget meeting.
While India eked out a hard-fought draw against the hosts of this year’s World Cup Qatar in their backyard in 2019, the team, coached by Igor Stimac, has had a series of underwhelming performances since then. In the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifying tournament, they could not beat lower-ranked teams like Bangladesh and Afghanistan while struggling to get past Sri Lanka, one of the lowest-ranked teams in the world, and Nepal in the South Asian Football championship.
Important events coming up
The coming few months will be busy and crucial for Indian football, with the men’s team scheduled to take part in the all-important Asian Cup qualifiers in June and the junior women set to compete in the Under-17 FIFA World Cup to be hosted by India.
The AIFF, according to the ACTC minutes, has also set a target for the men’s and women’s teams to reach the quarterfinals of the Asian Games, scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China, in September. However, their participation is yet to be confirmed by the Indian Olympic Association, which had rejected their entries for the 2018 Asiad, deeming them ‘incompetent’ to win any medals.
The government, however, said football’s budget will be reviewed after the Asian Games, based on performance. “A review would be undertaken after Asian Games 2022, in the month of October 2022, based on the achievements in the Asian Games, 2022, for any additional requirement of funds subject to availability of budget under the ‘Assistance to NSF’ Scheme,” the minutes of the meeting noted.
A senior AIFF official lamented the ‘differential treatment’ meted out to the sport. “Despite the differential treatment by the government, the AIFF has not compromised on any activity for the senior and junior teams, both men and women,” the official said. “However, it is surprising that a mass sport like football gets less funding compared to other sports that are nowhere close in terms of participation numbers and competitiveness.”
Other than funding from the government, the AIFF receives annual grants from world government body FIFA while a major chunk of its income comes from commercial partners Reliance Sports.
However, the Rs 5 crore it’ll receive this year under ACTC is barely a drop in the ocean. According to the audited accounts for the previous financial year, the salary of men’s team coach Stimac is more than half of the annual government-sanctioned budget, Rs 2.39 crore, while the administrative and legal costs combined were almost twice that amount, at Rs 9.86 crore.