Anwar Ali takes AIFF to court over medical inquiry into heart condition

File photo: Anwar Ali reacts during the FIFA U-17 World Cup match between India and Ghana on October 12, 2017. Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

In a move probably without precedent in Indian sport, the young footballer Anwar Ali has taken the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to court over his right to play. In his writ petition, filed in the Delhi High Court on Monday, Ali - who represented India at the Under-17 World Cup in 2017 - has challenged the AIFF's directive barring him from practicing with his club on account of a rare heart condition.

Ali, 20, has been diagnosed with a rare condition known as apical hypercardio myopathy (HCM). The diagnosis was made in Mumbai last year while he was playing in the Indian Super League (ISL), and then confirmed last November by experts at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Rennes, France. The consensus: the level of risk to Ali, in normal conditions and at his age, was low but the risk rose significantly during match conditions, and age would be a factor over the years.

Since then, Ali's career has been in limbo. He signed with Kolkata's Mohammedan Sporting Club last month but has been barred by the AIFF from training with the team.

The petition, filed by Ali's advocates Amitabh Tewari and Abhimanyu Tewari, on Monday, names the AIFF and the AIFF's sports medical committee as respondents. It seeks, among other things, a stay on a letter sent by the AIFF to Mohammedan Sporting on September 7, 2020, directing the club to not allow Ali to train with the team. It also requests a stay on the medical committee's proceedings until the disposal of Ali's petition.

"The petition will come up for hearing either on Wednesday or Thursday," Tewari told ESPN. "We have sent the AIFF a copy, so they know about the case."

"The basic point is, you have banned Anwar without the committee giving any finding," says Tewari. "He can't play and his livelihood is at stake. In the absence of any rules or regulations under the AIFF, his right to livelihood cannot be taken away."

The petition also questions the status of the AIFF sports medical committee, tasked by the AIFF with recommending to the executive committee whether Ali could continue to play. The committee, it says, has not been formed in compliance with Article 35(4) of the AIFF Constitution and so has no legal role to play in this issue.

Article 35(4) states that "the composition, specific duties and powers of the individual committees shall be stipulated in the relevant standing committee regulations" and Tewari contends the AIFF medical committee has no power under the AIFF constitution.

Tewari says the procedure followed by the AIFF in the episode was 'whimsical and arbitrary'. "The AIFF issued a letter to Anwar on September 7, where they said he cannot be allowed to train with Mohammedan pending the inquiry of the AIFF medical committee. After reading newspaper reports that he was being denied permission to play, we sent AIFF an email on September 24. We told them if you have decided on the issue, please send us an official communication by the committee, an official order that we can then challenge.

"We also asked them under what regulations they decided to ban (Anwar). They replied on September 26, saying no decision had been made. How can you issue a letter on September 7 saying I should not be allowed to train and the medical committee sends an email on September 26 saying we haven't still decided?"

Tewari also questioned the lack of communication between the AIFF and the player. "The AIFF sent Anwar's medical reports to the Asian Football Confederation. The AFC has apparently recommended that he should not play. The AIFF have not given us a copy of that report."

The petition also questions the manner in which the AIFF sought Ali's participation in a meeting on September 26, noting that it gave him four hours to prepare for it.

The petition also calls for the court to direct the AIFF to screen all players in AIFF competitions for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy). The petition cites the examples of two other players, Dipendu Biswas and Anwar Ali (senior); Ali suffered a heart attack on the field and Biswas was also diagnosed with HCM. The fact that both were were allowed to pay with this condition, the petition says, reflects the AIFF's "double standards".

"The AIFF constitution is completely silent as to what are the rules and regulations. In our case there are two doctors who have said Anwar can play and some who have said Anwar can't play. Now who is to decide which doctor is correct? That procedure has to be given in the regulations but there are no rules and no regulations," Tewari said.