AIFF plans to ban foreign players

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The AIFF will discuss a very contentious issue of banning foreign players from all domestic tournaments in India except from the National Football League.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:52 IST
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New Delhi:

In a week from now, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) will gather in New Delhi for an executive committee meeting. Apart from things like a proposed TV channel for Indian Football, the AIFF will discuss a very contentious issue of banning foreign players from all domestic tournaments in India except from the National Football League. The proposal which has the backing of certain clubs in the NFL is likely to open a pandora's box in India football. It all started with the popular Chima Okerie and now its Douglas for East Bengal, Ranty Martins for Dempo and several other foreigners who've made India their home. Debate over AIFF plans However, the All India Football Federation's proposal to ban foreigners from playing anything but the NFL has started a vicious debate. "It's a Catch 22 situation. Like the last national coach Stephen Constantine said there are no strikers available after Baichung and I M Vijayan because all the major clubs have foreign strikers. It is a similar situation in even developed countries like England where they feel they do not have good goalkeepers like Peter Cech at Chelsea and Lehmann at Arsenal so the leading clubs have foreign goal keepers," said Novy Kapadia, senior football journalist. "So the AIFF is under a similar predicament, the other predicament is that if you don't get the foreigners then you won't get the crowds in the NFL, you won't get the sponsors," added Kapadia. Current rules The current AIFF rules permit each club in the National Foootball League to employ only three foreigners, down from the original five. Stephen Constantine did have valid reasons to complain. In the nine NFL seasons so far, seven times the top scorer has been a foreigner. Currently foreigners are permitted to ply their trade in all the leagues and tournaments except the NFL's second Division. If the ban is ratified, it means that foreign imports can only play in the NFL's first division. They can't play in the leagues or in events like the Durand cup. Fierce opposition Clubs such as JCT who are struggling to maintain their football teams are said to be in favour of the ban. But Kolkata's big three have made it very clear that they are totally opposed to this xenophobic move by the AIFF. "According to me, the decision that the AIFF is thinking about, they need to think a lot about it because everywhere in the world you have foreign imports plying their trade, same here in India in the NFL's senior division we have foreign players and that helps better the standard of Indian football," said Anwar Sultan, Secretary, Mohammedan Sporting. "Indian boys get competition, they should be allowed to play in all competitions, one can limit the number of foreigners you have. Indians get some competition from competing with these players, they get too learn a lot," added Sultan. Improving the system Small clubs just as the Simla Youngs who play in the Delhi Soccer League certainly can't afford top level foreign players. But the club owners say that just a ban won't be enough to develop more local talent. "If Indian players are not of international quality what is needed is two things. Firstly clubs need to be rich to buy international stars which means more money has to come into the game because the pool of the money is very less and the second thing is a long-term structured development for youth has to happen which is not there at all," said Tushar Dev, Manager, Simla Youngs FC. The All India Football Federation's plan to ban foreign imports in the hope that it will give Indian footballers a better chance somehow only sounds good on paper. The fact is that foreign players have been an integral part of the Indian football system since the 1970s. And if it is Indian football that the AIFF is concerned about, then they need to take concrete steps towards building a youth structure, rather than taking decisions that will harm Indian football.