Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the present Union Information and Broadcasting Minister is also the president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), a position he has kept control of since 1988. In these years his record of junkets abroad as a member of various AFC and FIFA congresses has been far more impressive than the Indian football team's record. Of course, it is only in India where we would find the minister of propaganda as the head of the football federation. It helps to spin the bad news of the perpetual state of despair that Indian football finds itself in.
So let us see what Mr Das Munshi's record is since taking over as AIFF chief in 1988. After all, 18 years is a significant time to effect a turnaround in a sport's fortunes. In these 18 years India has not qualified for the World Cup and five of them have gone by. So what? Many other countries have not qualified in the World Cup. It is a dream many have not achieved. The Asian Cup perhaps? India last qualified for the Asian Cup in 1984. It comes as a great relief that there is a South Asian Football Federation Cup (SAFF) established in 1997 that includes countries like Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives. India has won 4 out of the last six titles. These wins merit two lines in the FIFA newsbriefs. The SAFF Cup has become the primary source of India's anemic movement in the FIFA rankings. Well, we are tigers in our backyard, aren't we?
Not so fast. India's place in South Asia is endangered as in the last South Asian Games (SAG), India lost to Nepal for the 3rd and 4th spot. The SAFF 2007 Cup is yet to be played. Meanwhile, India continues to slide down the world rankings from 99 in the November 1993 FIFA rankings to 148 this November. Even the bit of separation that India achieved between its neighbours a decade ago has gone with the South Asian countries tightly clustered around with Myanmar at 150, Sri Lanka 156, Bangladesh 158, Pakistan 165, and Nepal 172. Meanwhile our record of futility in the Asian Cup continues with the loss to Yemen, 1-2 finishing of our chances in the 2007 Asian Cup.
In the 18 years, the AIFF has changed 9 coaches with virtually no results. Das Munshi claims in a BBC interview in 2004 that the future is brighter. "So we have taken up the national youth development programme as priority for the last eight years. I'm very confident that we have launched a mission that India must appear in 2010." So does the AIFF actually do anything to tap Indian talent and to develop youth players? No, that onus falls on the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which gets no money from the AIFF.
Have things gotten better since the advent of the National Football League (NFL) the domestic football league in 1996. Das Munshi claims that he is unfairly criticized as a political hack and that he provides the vision. " If I am the president and I have a professional chief executive and coach we have only to decide policy but the execution should be done professionally." Fair enough but has his talk translated into any real gains.
In these 10 years there are only 12 teams in the NFL, the majority are from Calcutta and Goa. Attendances for matches barely average 6000. Meanwhile, no club has a stadium of its own, all matches are played in municipal stadiums that are leased out to the clubs. The lack of infrastructure is bewildering since the AIFF is flush with cash, The All India Football Federation (AIFF) signed a 10-year Rs.2.73 billion (66 million USD) television deal with Zee Sports last season and a seven-year deal with Nike to supply the national team with apparel, footwear and equipment. ONGC the title sponsors of the NFL pays the AIFF Rs.75 million per year (1.67 million USD). There are also annual grants from FIFA, for development of the game. The singular achievement in all of this time is the construction of the AIFF house at a cost of approximately a million USD.
The function of the AIFF remains to hire and fire coaches, maintain a moribund domestic league, and to keep political cronies in power. The constant these 18 years: Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, a career politician at the helm of India's footballing affairs. Under Das Munshi, the AIFF has become an enervated institution, sapped of all intrinsic energy and vision, and a tool for propaganda. In fact, the only vision the AIFF has, is being provided to them, courtesy Mohammed Bin Hamann, the AFC president, who seems far more interested in developing football in India than Das Munshi.
It has gotten so bad that the Indian sports ministry axed the football team to the Doha Asian Games stating that they have no chances at a medal. The Asian Games start December 1st. The sports ministry is more realistic than Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who has been asleep on the wheel for 18 years as AIFF president. It is time to bring in a new president, an outsider, a full time professional, who has both time and passion for football, and is realistic in setting goals (pun fully intended).