Legendary footballer Baichung Bhutia on Saturday said he was shocked at the “high level” of political interference in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) elections.
This came after Bhutia lost to BJP leader and former goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey in the election for the president’s post.
According to the 45-year-old Bhutia, the AIFF elections should have been fought without any “political interference”, and purely on football matters.
“I was shocked because I personally did not expect that the political interference (in AIFF elections) would be of such a high level. I thought it was a football president election and I wanted to contribute with sincerity.”
“If they (his opponents) were so confident of victory, why a powerful union minister had to come to the hotel (where the voters were staying) at 9 pm (on Thursday) and stay there till 2 am on the morning of the election day (on Friday) and take all of them to a particular floor of the hotel,” he said.
Though Bhutia did not take the name of the union minister, his proposer in the polls and Rajasthan state association president Manvendra Singh had on Friday alleged that law minister Kiren Rijiju was present at the hotel and told the members to vote against the former India captain.
“Out of the 34 members of the electoral college, 33 (except Gopalakrishna Kosaraju) were taken to a floor of the hotel and access was denied to the whole floor. I could not contact any of the voters, the network was down.
“I tried calling the secretary of Rajasthan association, who is a voter and whose president (Manvendra Singh) was my seconder, but I could not reach him on phone.
“The political interference was a shocking thing to me and it was very unfortunate and a sad thing for Indian football.”
Andhra Pradesh state association president Kosaraju had seconded Bhutia.
New president Chaubey also admitted that Rijiju was present at the hotel where the voters were staying but had termed Manvendra’s allegations a “complete lie”.
Another football legend I M Vijayan, Shabbir Ali, and Climax Lawrence are the other three male former players co-opted as executive committee members. Thong Tababi Devi and Pinky Magar are the two female former players co-opted as executive committee members.
(Inputs from PTI)