The appointment of eight officials of IMG-Reliance, the commercial and marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), to the sport's governing body's various committees has raised a controversy, with at least one senior member named in one of the committees coming out strongly against it. The appointments, ratified and announced following an executive committee meeting in New Delhi on March 23, are unusual because it is rare for commercial partners or sponsors to be given decision-making roles in national sports federations.
The most high-profile appointment was that of Sundar Raman, CEO of Reliance Sports, to the important technical committee, which will now be chaired by former international Shyam Thapa, replacing former captain Bhaichung Bhutia, and with former international Henry Menezes as deputy chairman. Its powers include hiring of technical staff such as the national team's head coach, youth coach and taking decisions on policy matters such as scouting, the number of matches India plays and so on.
The decision has been defended by Kushal Das, AIFF secretary, on the grounds of Raman's expertise and experience -- he was a key member of the IPL administration, first as a right-hand man to Lalit Modi and then as chief operating officer before stepping down in November 2015 while under investigation for his alleged role in the 2013 IPL corruption scandal. However, no action was taken against him as the Lodha panel investigating the case said there was lack of "cogent evidence" to establish any direct or indirect involvement in betting or any other wrongful activity.
However, his inclusion in the technical committee has been sharply criticised by Shaji Prabhakaran, former FIFA regional development officer, who has also been named in the club licensing committee.
"Internationally, companies pay millions of dollars in sponsorships, but don't become part of decision-making. There is no doubt that they should have certain discretionary powers at some administrative levels, but the more you involve them in decision-making, the greater the chances of conflicts of interest," Prabhakaran told ESPN. "For instance, you would never imagine Barclays being put into the Premier League board. If you see, FIFA has global sponsors who give them anywhere between 15 million to 300 million dollars, but they wouldn't have any of the sponsors making decisions on technical matters. He [Raman] should be in a committee that he is qualified for -- marketing, finance or league. Commercial matters are not a purview of the technical committee."
"The formation of the technical committee is the sole purview of the executive committee and nobody has the right to question the decision to form them," Das said about the decision to include Raman in the technical committee. "We felt we needed someone who could bring in management and administrative experience into processes and systems with regard to technical matters like selection, and we think his know-how in cricket will come in handy. He can also look at streamlining the scouting process, and the fact that he will be working alongside former footballers will be a good thing."
"You have to maintain distance from the sponsors. They should be a part of discussion, but they must never be part of decision-making," said Prabhakaran. "My apprehension is that we should not be giving them that institution. We must follow the best practices that are followed globally. The institution has to be above everything else."
Among the other IMG-Reliance members who have been included in other committees, prominent names include Rochak Langer and former Pune FC head of operations Chirag Tanna (the league committee), G Srinivvasan (futsal and beach soccer committee) and Swati Kothari (women's football committee).