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TFG Take: Baljit racism charge again exposes lack of clarity in Indian football ethical system

THE ALLEGATIONS LEVELED by Atletico de Kolkata's Baljit Singh against Gregory Arnolin has opened up a pandora's box for AIFF and ISL franchise administrators, who are dealing with a major allegation of racism for the first time.

Baljit Singh Sahni, a creative player who has featured constantly for Atletico de Kolkata under Habas in various positions, including as a forward, medio as well as right back, got into a tiff with FC Goa's French centre back Gregory Arnolin after they fouled each other a couple of times. After the referee showed him a yellow card, Baljit head-butted Arnolin. He was immediately sent off, and subsequently banned for two matches and slapped a Rs 5 lakh fine for the offence. 

But yesterday he spoke to the Bengali tabloid "Ebela" and alleged that Gregory Arnolin had incited him with a derogatory comment about his mother and his nationality. 

Baljit, a soft-spoken sportsman who has always avoided controversy and quietly done his job in JCT and East Bengal and later on loan at ATK, has rarely spoken out complaining against a fellow footballer. But this grave allegation that he is making is coming out from all the wrong avenues.

Firstly, the referee was not notified immediately. FIFA recommends that any on-field incident of racist nature be communicated to the referee and the match commissioner without delay. But none of that was done in this case.

Even afterwards, ATK was reluctant to file a complaint because they "had no proof". But that is not how this works. FIFA rules compel a club to officially notify the tournament authorities and the country's football governing body. There are a vast number of ways in which evidence can be gathered, including analysing video footage.

This kind of lacklustre approach reflects an ignorance of fair play practices on the franchises' part. And ISL being a private tournament, how much of FIFA's rules apply to it, and how, is pretty much up for debate. So far it has often come down to AIFF making last-minute interventions to enforce proper rules. Right before the opening match of the second season of ISL, it was AIFF who had to butt in and tell the organisers that ATK coach Habas was under suspension for one more match. Even when it came to releasing players for the Indian national team, a lot of the franchises made complaining noises.

It is the pseudo-official nature of the ISL tournament that creates this situation where instead of strictly abiding by the rules, franchises try to get around them. A prime example would be North East United refusing to offer full contracts to its Indian players (all loaned from then-partner club Shillong Lajong), and paying them with daily wages instead; something a real professional football club cannot do.

It is because of the private status of ISL and its franchises that such atrocities go on without being properly addressed. And it ultimately comes back to hurt the players, like it is hurting Baljit now. And it will not change as long as ISL carries on in its present form and status.

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