Sunday, June 26, 2011

FIFA vs. Belize -- Global NGO vs. National Sovereignty

Do FIFA rules trump national sovereignty?  This would seem like a silly question, but in international football you'll find not just silly questions, but silly answers.  In this case the answer is "yes."

Consider current goings-on in Belize:
World football's governing body, FIFA, has suspended the Belize football federation with immediate effect citing "severe government interference".

FIFA issued a statement on Friday after its emergency committee had issued the ban.

The suspension means that the return leg of the qualifier for the 2014 World Cup against Montserrat, which was scheduled for Sunday, has been postponed, after Belize won the first leg 5-2 on Wednesday.
What violation has the Belize government made to incur the wrath of FIFA?  It appears to be nothing more than holding its national football association accountable to its domestic laws:
The government of Belize in Central America has accused local football boss Bertie Chimilio of banning opponents from elections so he can remain in perpetual power. On June 7, after eight years of urging the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) to publish its accounts and hold transparent elections, the government gave up and told Chimilio his federation ‘was no longer authorised to represent Belize.’
The sanctions that FIFA can impose are severe:
Belize’s footballers are currently competing in qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. On June 17 Blatter summoned FIFA’s emergency committee. Not surprisingly it ruled that the Belize government must stop ‘their severe interference.’ Until FIFA gets this guarantee, the national side is banned from playing further World Cup matches. A game against Montserrat has been postponed and may be cancelled if Belize doesn’t bow to Blatter. The team are heartbroken.
Who in FIFA made the decision to suspend the Football Federation of Belize from participating in 2014 World Cup qualifying?
FIFA ‘s emergency committee is comprised of Africa’s Issa Hayatou (under investigation by the IOC for allegedly taking a $30,000 bribe), Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz (accused of taking five bribes totalling $730,000) and Sepp Blatter (accused of forwarding a bribe to Joao Havelange and also being investigated by the IOC).

Mohammed Bin Hamman couldn’t vote; he is suspended, accused of paying $1 million in bribes in this month’s FIFA presidential election campaign. Oceania’s David Chung is a new member and alongside him is Uefa’s Michel Platini.
Michel Platini is thought by many to be the leading candidate to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.  Of note UEFA recently demanded that FIFA follow through on its promise to reform its governance to eliminate corruption:
Allegations of bribery during the recent presidential election led to FIFA executive committee members Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner being suspended indefinitely, with Sepp Blatter being re-elected as president unopposed.

UEFA president Michel Platini wants Blatter's promised changes to FIFA to be carried out as soon as possible.

"The executive committee takes good note of the will of FIFA to take concrete and efficient measures with regards to good governance, expects to see results within the next three months and is following the situation closely," UEFA officials said in a statement.

These sentiments were echoed by UEFA executive committee member Jim Boyce, who also happens to be vice president of FIFA.

"All of the UEFA executive committee are absolutely adamant that FIFA has to do something and has to be seen to be doing something," Boyce said.
"We have given three months to see if appropriate action is taken by FIFA. Obviously we will discuss that again at the next meeting (in September)."
Platini has thus far been silent on Belize, but it marks a notable case to assess the degree to which FIFA is actually serious about reform.  All indications are that it is business as usual.  

National governments must retain the right to hold their national football associations accountable to national laws.  FIFA should not provide cover for corruption, but that appears to be exactly what it is doing when it invokes its "political non-interference" principle.  Any effective reform of FIFA will take this into account.


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