Gangtok: Bhaichung Bhutia blamed his All India Football Federation (AIFF) president election loss on three Union Ministers and multiple Chief Ministers, claiming that “they” politicised the election of India’s apex football body.
The former Indian football captain, however, refused to name the ministers. “I want to move on from this election now and focus on Sikkim and the people,” he stated.
Addressing a press conference in Lumsey here on Wednesday, Bhaichung shared his version of events from the night before the AIFF election in New Delhi.
“The night before the election, around 18-19 state football association representatives were confident about voting me as president. But around 8 pm, 33 state body representatives were taken to a room for a meeting with a Union Minister. I, along with my nomination seconder from the Rajasthan football body, was barred from entering the room. We were unable to call those inside the room. They had apparently jammed the network. The Union Minister stayed till 2 am,” Bhutia stated.
“It took three Union Ministers and around eight to ten CMs to ensure one man lost the election. Prior to their intervention, I was confident about securing 18-19 votes. It really surprised me that an election for a football body had so much political intervention. I can now say that I have shaken the government in power, otherwise, such politicization would not have happened. If they want to politicise it, they should be open about it, then we could have very well fought under political symbols. Now to say that the AIFF election was not political is a bit unacceptable and unfortunate,” he added.
On media reports and one of the representatives of the Rajasthan football body openly mentioning Union Minister Kiren Rijiju’s involvement in the polls, Bhaichung stated, “I do not want to take names. There is nothing personal, it is a professional decision of his. At the end of the day, he was a friend of mine, a close friend. But he is also a leader of a political party. There are pressures and rules to follow. We will not try to mix personal and professional relationships. Personally, we won’t have a problem, but we might not match professionally due to ideological differences.”
Bhutia also informed the group of journalists that he will resign from his executive position and role as technical advisor to Sikkim Football Association to continue as a member. Bhaichung declined from discussing Menla Ethenpa but wished him the best for being nominated as an executive member of AIFF.
“Since 2-3 AIFF elections, he has been voting in favour of winning horse. His bid to be the treasurer of AIFF didn’t work. Now, we shall see how he will ensure a platform for our players and funds of Rs 50 lakh will be utilized for players’ benefits. I will also write to the general secretary to ensure an investigation is carried out against the Sikkim Football Association on fund misappropriation,” Bhutia said.
Upon his return on Tuesday, Bhaichung called upon the leaders of the Northeast to ensure better representation of the people who voted for them.
On being asked if the current representation in the Centre was underwhelming, Bhaichung said, “I do not want to single out a leader, but there are a lot of politicians and businessmen from the Northeast who pretend to represent us but forget about us for personal or political gains. Unless they can’t walk the talk, they shouldn’t be lecturing us about unity.”
“The people across Northeast are huge football fans. They are aware, and if social media is to be believed, they are not happy about the result. They know very well about how much Northeast dominates Indian football. Someone who was there to genuinely promote Indian football was not given that opportunity due to political interference. I think people are intelligent enough to decide,” Bhaichung said when asked about the support he got from Sikkim and the Northeast for the election.
On players representing association and AIFF in the future, Bhaichung stated, “We have been fighting for players voting rights, which the Supreme Court had initially given, only to revoke it. The new constitution is being framed and we are putting pressure that the verdict on player representation in association should stay. Once the constitution is framed, we will decide on the next step.”
Bhaichung also remarked that the loss may have been a blessing in disguise as he intends on keeping his focus on working for the Sikkimese people.
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