The suspension of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) by FIFA has ushered in dark clouds of uncertainty over Indian football. The instantaneous impact of the decision has been felt by Gokulam Kerala FC Women's team, who have qualified for the AFC Women’s Club Championship.
In the wake of the FIFA ban, the Malabarians are in contention to be ousted from the tournament even before setting their boots on the pitch. The team is stuck in Tashkent, Uzbekistan without having a clear end in sight.
Club captain Loitongbam Ashalata Devi, writing for the Indian Express, underlined the frustration among the players arising from the fact that they were punished by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for no fault of their own.
"The frustrating bit is that we are being punished for no fault of ours. And it’s not the first time such a thing has happened. This incident reminded me immediately of another unfortunate incident that took place in January this year," the former AIFF player of the year revealed.
"The AFC Asian Cup was played in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and Pune. But after just one match, we were removed from the competition because of a bubble breach that led to a Covid outbreak within our group," she added.
Ashalata Devi said the episode with Gokulam Kerala FC now feels a lot like what happened to the national team during the AFC Asian Cup earlier in the year.
"It was a tough phase emotionally and I was almost on the verge of depression. But somehow, I and others on the team overcame that disappointment and moved on," she added.
"My request to everyone is to not get into the blame game now" - Gokulam Kerala FC's Ashalata Devi
Ashalata Devi, along with everyone involved with Gokulam Kerala FC, have been the worst hit when it comes to the FIFA ban. They've been preparing for months to appear in the elite continental tournament, however, all those dreams are now close to being shattered.
Yet, Ashalata maintains that this is not the time to play the 'blame game.' Since the publication of the FIFA decision, there has been a lot of angst and anger amongst the Indian football fraternity. Who should be blamed? Who is responsible? But the national team skipper averred:
"My request to everyone is to not get into the blame game now. We need to come up with solutions to ensure the ban is lifted immediately for the betterment of the players, clubs and people of our country."
The AIFF elections are reportedly a few days away and nominations have already been filed. Among the many names, Indian footballing legend Bhaichung Bhutia is a twinkling candidate.
Ashalata stated that for the betterment of Indian football, it's important that someone from 'footballing background' should become the next president.
"I hope whoever becomes the next president of the AIFF comes from a footballing background. I feel that dil se. I saw on social media that Bhaichung Bhutia sir is contesting for the president’s post. Just yesterday (Thursday), (goalkeeper) Aditi (Chauhan) and I were talking about it; that if he is elected, it can be a good thing for Indian football," the 29-year-old said.
In her concluding statement, Ashalata admitted that for all these years, the players have been aloof about the day-to-day proceedings in the federation. However, after the ominous ban, she feels it is important to be aware of the workings of the AIFF from here on.