Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

FIFA and political interference

Posted by John Beech on July 2, 2010

I’ve posted previously on the potential mess for France in the aftermath of their poor performance in the World Cup – with various threats emanating from not only Sports Minister Rosalyne Bachelot but also President Sarkozy coming dangerously close to the kind of interference that FIFA will not tolerate apparently.  In Italy too there has been criticism, but not as yet any that could be considered interference (1). Now Nigeria are in trouble (2).  President Goodluck [now there’s irony] Jonathan has banned the national team from participating in international football for two years to give them time to get their act together.  FIFA’s reaction has been to threaten to suspend Nigeria unless the ban is withdrawn, which is not quite as Pythonesque as it first appears, as the real threat is that FIFA will withdraw funding.  Mind you, I can’t quite free myself from the Python analogy.  FIFA issuing threats to governments has got to be at least a bit Pythonesque – could this all lead to FIFA dispatching a gunboat if Nigeria doesn’t back down?  (And where does FIFA base its gunboats anyway, given that it is based in land-locked Switzerland? ;-)). We’ve come quite close to political interference in England.  There were not only the various manifestoes at the last election (see here) – insisting that clubs sell 25% of their shares can hardly be considered anything other than interference whether you think it sensible or not.  Now we have David Amess MP weighing in with an Early Day Motion (3) calling for an urgent enquiry into the state of the English game – one which, if it ever happened, would be taken notice of as much as the Burns Report.  Personally, I think he might more usefully devote his time to sorting out football problems rather nearer to home – he is MP for Southend West. The notion that governments should not interfere with sport is of course absolutely ‘right on’, at least from a Western liberal perspective.  FIFA is, being a global organisation, obliged to see things from a variety of cultural perspectives.  The relevant FIFA Statute is 13.1., which states that members are obliged “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties” (4).  So how exactly does that apply to North Korea for example?  Do the North Koreans simply brazen it out and argue that in North Korea there are no third parties, and that government and Football Association are one and the same?  While I mayseem to make light of the issues, there is a serious point – that FIFA should not bend its statutes to meet the varying situations in different member countries.  There should not be one interpretation of the statutes for countries that are dictatorships, left or right, and another for democracies.


Stories centred on FIFA and possible confrontation with national governments seem to be like buses at the moment.

The Irish Football Association President and Vice President are reported as being on the verge of enforced resignation (A), having just been re-elected unopposed, with the Northern Ireland government using funding for a new stadium as leverage.  In Russia, FIFA Executive Committee member and Minister for Sport is coming under pressure, at least in part because of his alledged excesses with expenses (B). Meanwhile, back in England, The Daily Mail (no, I don’t read it by choice, but it does pop up in Google News alerts) is reporting that Minister of Sport Hugh Robertson “will be demanding [sic] that the dysfunctional Football Association gets its house in order after the World Cup 2018 vote in December” (C). He is also reported as having “pledged to ensure the recommendations of the 2005 Burns report are properly implemented — especially the independent representation on the FA board“.  So no government nominees then.  As if.  England isn’t North Korea after all. Oh, and great comment from Allan Brown below.

UPDATE – 11 August 2010

FIFA have finally taken action over North Korea (D), to investigate allegations of player mistreatment after the team’s return from the World Cup (E).  Well, when I say ‘action’, I mean that they have just asked for information, so don’t hold your breath.

UPDATE – 4 October 2010

FIFA has now suspended Nigeria (full FIFA statement here). This is, FIFA says, for a number of reasons including “court actions against elected members of the NFF Executive Committee preventing them from exercising their functions and duties“.

More details of the underlying issues here.

3 Responses to “FIFA and political interference”

  1. Allan Brown said

    The principle is on paper a sound one but FIFA only ever give a stuff whenever the state wishes to upset the clientelism of FIFA’s corruption. FIFA have no issue with Uday Hussein running Iraqi football, nor Mugabe’s nephew in Zimbabwe. They do have an issue with the government of Togo withdrawing its team on the back of terrorism in the last African Champions Cup. Ditto Greece where the government wished to break apart the corruption plaguing the national association and the nexus with media and club owners and bent refs. As with England, albeit for different reason, the Greek football public – locked out of the system and unable to reform it, and with FIFA unwilling to act – leaves the state as the only actor with authority (never mind national democratic sovereignty demanding it).

    The idea of England falling foul of FIFA before the world cup 2018 is awarded could be critical with only 24 votes at stake. After then, win or lose the tournament, are FIFA going to ban England – or France – for the state dealing with something its citizens want dealing with? They can try, but they’d lose. More important to FIA than any principle is the dirty cash that major western companies spend with FIFA on sponsorship and TV rights. It’s a paper tiger.

  2. Jack Price said

    Considering the vast amounts of public funding spent on subsidising, to take one example, the construction of stadia for FIFA’s World Cup (and an article in this week’s New Statesman points out quite rightly that South Africa as a whole is unlikely to see many benefits from the tournament) I think it’s pretty rich for FIFA to bemoan ‘political interference’ whenever someone attempts to reform often-corrupt football associations.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Beech, GabyDijkstra. GabyDijkstra said: RT @JohnBeech: #footballfinance FIFA/North Korea update […]

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