I'm the right person to run AIFF; have no political backing: Bhaichung Bhutia (Friday Interview)

Legendary Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia was famous for his speedy run into the rival box. His instincts upfront made him one of the most feared Indian forwards for more than a decade-and-a-half.

I'm the right person to run AIFF; have no political backing: Bhaichung Bhutia (Friday Interview)
Bhaichung Bhutia. Source: IANS

Ishwar Nath Jha

New Delhi, Aug 26 (IANS) Legendary Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia was famous for his speedy run into the rival box. His instincts upfront made him one of the most feared Indian forwards for more than a decade-and-a-half.

As the 45-year-old makes a foray into football administration -- he has filed the nomination for the post of President in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) elections scheduled on September 2 -- the charismatic footballer's instincts tell him he will be able to make a mark upfront once again, even though it is an uncharted territory for him.

"I am the right person to run the AIFF," said a confident Bhutia in a chat with IANS, indicating he will not give up without a fight.


Q: So, you have decided to take the plunge into AIFF politics. Who nominated you and how confident are you about your chances of heading the federation?

A: My nomination was proposed by president of the Andhra Football Association, Gopalkrishna Kosaraju, and seconded by Manvendra Singh, president of Rajasthan Football Association.

I feel I am the right person to run the AIFF. We all know the situation in the federation. The body has been suspended by the international football federation (FIFA) and we have lost the right to host the U-17 Women's World Cup in October. I'm sure everyone is aware of the situation and, as I said earlier, we need to bring in good reforms and good management. The turn of events before the elections, it really saddens me. We need good people in the management who can take Indian football in the right direction.

Q: Were you disappointed when the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision on giving voting rights to eminent players?

A: We are unlucky that the Supreme Court turned down the voting rights of the players. Obviously, we will pursue the matter, but as far as this election is concerned, we have to abide by the order. Hopefully, in future with the new constitution, we will keep fighting for the players' rights to become part of the AIFF, duly getting the voting rights and becoming a part of the general body. So, that's something we want to do.

Q: Do you think this is a great opportunity for you to give back to the sport, which has given you so much? Also, are you being supported by any political party in these elections?

A: I am here for the betterment of Indian football. I want to be a part of the administration and want to work for Indian football. The sport needs reforms in the country. Today, what I've become is only because of football. I'm a Padma Shri because of it. I played for India for 16 years; this is my moment to give back to my sport. It needs reforms with (FIFA) bans happening.

Whatever has happened in the past has happened. It (AIFF) has been run by businessmen and politicians. You know, today, at least I'm not affiliated or attached to any big national party. I can go to any state today, be it a Congress, BJP NCP, DMC or JD-ruled state... any state. I can go because I'm not affiliated to any political party.

Q: Do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has given a fillip to sport in the country?

A: I'm working with the government and the sports ministry on several projects. The government is supporting sportspersons. We've got a great Prime Minister who's been very receptive to sportspersons. He has really helped sport grow in India. And that is one of the reasons why sportspersons like me are now motivated, not just to become coaches or officials, but also to foray into sports administrators.

Sourav Ganguly, one of the all-time greats of Indian cricket, is doing such a great job as president of the Indian cricket board. He's just one of the examples. Why can't other players do it as well? So, my thing is, we can work once I get into the federation (AIFF). I'm already working with the government and I can assure you that the All India Football Federation will work with all the state associations and the government as well for the betterment of the sport. We'll be able to work and do a much better job that way.

Q: Former India goalkeeper and BJP leader Kalyan Chaubey is also in the fray for the post of president and he is reportedly the frontrunner for the post. Your thoughts on it...

A: I am inviting Kalyan Chaubey for discussion. We'll sit together and let's have a debate on Indian football. If he convince me with his ideas, I will be ready to work with him. I think it's time that you know that sportspersons also have a say and can fight for the post of president, can win and can do a good job. I'm sure and I'm confident I can do that.

I've got that experience. I've got that knowledge, and I've got nice plans which we can look at for Indian football to prosper. I've mentioned that centres of excellence are something which we want to have in all the states, so that the states can start producing quality players.

Yesterday, I was reading an article somewhere where Kalyan mentioned that there is a need in each state to have adequate office infrastructure, where planning and policymaking can happen. Kalyan had mentioned that each state should have an office spread over a minimum of 10,000 square feet area. He had also opined that certified member associations could build uniformly-designed offices, which would be called the football houses of those respective states.

Well, this would not be my priority at the moment. He (Kalyan) might be misguided, I don't know. It's a statement but he might be misguided by some state associations. I think this will be a waste of money. And if this is his plan, he perhaps needs to think again. The money should go into grassroots football.