Despite the varying politics, heritages, languages, neighbours, enemies, religions and landscapes of every country on earth, every single one has a passionate sporting community.
Football benefits from being the sport that is most widely played and competed in at a level that makes many other sporting pursuits envious. It has the power to influence people’s emotions and manipulate their actions to a degree which politicians could only dream of.
It is for this reason that football has been regularly commandeered by governments and leaders all over the world throughout modern history. From Mussolini’s Italy, to Franco’s Spain, to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, all have meddled hugely with the game.
When Uday Hussein, son of dictator Saddam Hussein, was in charge of the Iraqi FA he had players imprisoned and tortured after the team exited the Asian Cup in 2000. At the bottom of the country’s Olympic Committee headquarters was a prison where sportsmen were tortured by whipping their feet, dragged through gravel pits and plunged into sewage tanks. This kind of violence has been common in totalitarian regimes throughout the world.
It is because of these dangerous acts of government intervention that FIFA now intervenes, regularly and swiftly, to suspend any national FA which is involved with their national government. The FIFA statutes state that “each member shall manage its affair independently and with no influence from third parties”.
They have never been afraid to send out warnings to nations, irrespective of their achievements or clout. In the past ten years FIFA have threatened numerous countries all over the world including Spain and Greece.
However, at a time when FIFA and Football Associations all over the world are being apprehended for their corruption or poor leadership, is it not possible that a democratically elected government should step in to sort out the organisation for the benefit of the population? It would be naive to suggest that governments aren’t susceptible themselves to the same evils, but should positive action be punished by FIFA?
Over the past season the government and David Cameron have been particularly vocal about a number of incidents in English football. From fan ownership, irresponsible chairman, racist abuse and physical violence, the Prime Minister and House of Commons have had their say and threatened to intervene.
If the Conservative government came out tomorrow and legislated that all fans should be given a greater say in the running of their local clubs, implemented a strict punishment procedure for clubs and fans who racially abuse players and spectators and made chairman more accountable for their actions then this would satisfy many people’s grievances with the sport .The only people who would suffer would be Roy Hodgson and his squad who most definitely would be banned from attending the World Cup in 2014 if they qualified.
However, this year the South African government were warned that their national team and FA would be banned if they decided to go ahead with an investigation into match-fixing. It is alleged that their pre-World Cup 2010 friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Columbia and Guatemala were all fixed. The government’s intervention in this case should be praised but instead FIFA have stepped in and turned football fans on their national organisation by threatening expulsion. The move is seen by many to be FIFA’s way of preserving its murky past involving corruption and illegal payments.
The rules against government intervention, FIFA would argue, is to keep the politics and sport separate and to avoid an abuse of power which has blighted certain countries in the past. However, it is naive to think that FIFA really believes in the separation of politics and power. They themselves deeply involve with governments in the run up to World Cups and choose the competition’s location depending on the promise of government funding and cooperation to deliver tournaments.
In the end, it seems that FIFA have settled for the lesser of two evils. There is no doubt that many national FAs could benefit from outside reform and intervention, having been blighted my men who have much more sinister motivations, such as Jack Warner and Colin Klass. However, the puppet part which football has played for gruesome and vile regimes means that FIFA is shielding the sport from very dark influences, and there are many defecting footballers who would be grateful for this.