Kalyan Chaubey has contested two elections in his political career so far, both with the BJP and both ending in losses (the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the West Bengal Assembly elections last year). But the sports administration career of the former India men’s national team goalkeeper kicked off on a successful note on Friday as he trumped former India striker Bhaichung Bhutia 33-1 in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) presidential election.
Coming into the election, Chaubey was the odds-on favourite. His victory was virtually sealed after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju met officials of state associations on the eve of the polls. He was nominated by the Gujarat state association and seconded by Arunachal Pradesh, Rijiju’s home state.
While the rival camp labelled his victory “the government takeover of Indian football”, Chaubey begged to differ. “This is not true,” the former goalkeeper told The Indian Express. “Yes, he (Rijiju) came. But the government doesn’t have any role to play in this and time will attest to that.”
In a year of upheaval at the AIFF that saw the federation’s long-standing president Praful Patel get ousted and India briefly banned by FIFA over third-party interference, Chaubey has his plate full, especially with the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for next month. But the 45-year-old is confident about overcoming the challenges.
“This has been much awaited. We fought a long legal battle that called for a lot of time, effort and money. We knew that we would win if elections were held. The way the AIFF was being run, it was error-strewn. From that point of view, I am happy to have won,” Chaubey told Express, adding, “We will work hard. I have spoken to the FIFA representatives (about the U-17 Women’s World Cup). In terms of organisation, we will ensure that the tournament is perfectly organised.”
Asked if the current contract of Indian men’s national team head coach Igor Stimac would be extended, the newly elected AIFF president said, “We are calling a meeting on September 17 in Kolkata to form different committees. The technical committee will decide Stimac’s future.”
Chaubey is a 1995 Tata Football Academy graduate who plied his trade for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. After playing 27 matches for Mohun Bagan in 1996-’97, he joined East Bengal and stayed there for three years, playing 67 games. He also turned up for Bengal Mumbai FC and Salgaocar FC and appeared for trials at German lower division clubs as well. He was adjudged India’s best goalkeeper twice, in 1997-’98 and 2001-’02. Though he was part of the national squad from 1999 to 2006, he did not get a game.
Following his football retirement, a brief modelling career followed. Active politics was his next step and he joined the BJP in 2015. Chaubey lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Krishnanagar in Nadia district to the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) Mahua Moitra. In the 2021 Assembly polls, he lost to the TMC’s Sadhan Pande from Maniktala in Kolkata.
Standing against Chaubey in the AIFF presidential polls was Bhutia, an iconic Indian footballer. Bhutia, who was once with the TMC but has now floated his own party, spoke about continuing to work for Indian football while Chaubey stressed that the former India captain would not be left out. “Our main focus is the development of Indian football and everybody is welcome,” he said.
Some former AIFF officials, however, are taking Chaubey’s ascent – he was never in football administration before – with a pinch of salt. “Players are usually bad administrators because sports administration is a different ballgame and players see it through the eyes of a fan. Unfortunately, in our country, decision-makers think that experience is an impediment in sports administration. The new AIFF panel has nobody with more than four years of football administrative experience,” said a former senior AIFF official.