On Wednesday, FIFA's Association Committee will gather for their regular meeting in Zurich. The Committee deals with relations between FIFA and its members with a view of achieving optimum co-operation. If governments try to interfere in the running of associations, FIFA will intervene.
FIFA.com spoke with FIFA's Director of Member Associations and Development, Thierry Regenass, about governmental interference in football and the measures which football's governing body can take.
FIFA.com: What exactly is political interference?
Thierry Regenass: FIFA has the mandate to control association football worldwide, in all its aspects. This mandate is delegated to the national association, to control association football at the national level. This is about managing, controlling and developing football as a game and also the organisation of the game in general. The associations have the obligation to do it on their own, in an autonomous way without outside interference, from the government or any other parties. In general, political interference is when a government tries to take direct control.
What is the most common political interference?
The most common case of political interference is when a government perceives that the Executive Committee of the national association is not performing well enough and decides to take action. Often, because the national team is losing too many games, they decide that changes must be made and want to put someone else in charge. Other than that, it can be a lot of different things. For example, a government organising its own competition, outside of the association, or a government which decides to change the result of a league, because they favour one team more than the other.
However, we are not against governments, nor do we encourage our member associations to work in opposition of their governments. On the contrary - we constantly try to establish a good atmosphere and co-operation with governments. A government has a very important role to play in contributing to the development of football in a country. If there is a good relationship between the government and the national football association, then there will be very productive results.
How many cases of interference, more or less, does FIFA have to deal with in a year?
It’s difficult to give a figure. It all depends on what you call a ‘case’. We are in constant communication with our members and at times, there might be confusion, or even tension with other parties, but it can’t even be considered a case because the issue gets quickly resolved, through a simple clarification letter, or sometimes the evocation of a suspension.
When there are problems, we try to encourage the association to explain the background, we then explain why there would be a problem for FIFA, and then encourage the association to restore good working relations bilaterally.
Sometimes we meet with government representatives to try to prevent them from interfering. We only get involved when there has been a direct intervention. In that case, the matter would be referred to the FIFA Executive Committee or the Emergency Committee, with the ultimate sanction being the suspension of the association. If the association is still suspended by the time of the Congress, it needs to be confirmed by the FIFA Congress.
So talking about figures, it can be between four to ten ‘cases’ per year. Currently no associations are suspended.
FIFA is a strong organisation, not only in its football realm, but also in the political, socio-economical world, and we can and should use this strength to help our members.
How does FIFA detect political interference?
In general, the association informs us. But in some places, they don’t want to inform us because they fear suspension or they are afraid of their Government. As football’s governing body we are constantly in the process of monitoring the situation of football in the world, including political topics. So we might hear from other football stakeholders, be it from the political world, the football world, or the local media even. The next step would be to ask the association to report about the issue and FIFA would then send delegates to examine the situation.
What are the measures that FIFA can take to stop political interference?
Although we have strong principles as well as procedures to follow, we have to act on a case-by-case basis. In terms of concrete measures, we do not have many alternatives other than the threat of suspension, and the suspension itself. But when you suspend an association, hence withdrawing financial resources, you penalise the football association, without impacting or engaging the government that much. So our first step is to try and encourage the association to get in contact with the government or the party involved in the case, and discuss the issue. Through official communications we will then progressively inform of the mounting risk of a suspension of the national association.
But outside of the context of a case, through monitoring, communication and reactivity, FIFA can try to prevent the emergence of a crisis. FIFA is a strong organisation, not only in its football realm, but also in the political, socio-economical world, and we can and should use this strength to help our members.
With which organisations is FIFA working closely together to achieve the goal of keeping politics out of sport/football?
First of all, we work with the continental confederations. In some countries, there are more general problems, i.e. governments enacting laws that will apply to, and impact on all sports, for example taking away the management responsibilities from the federation, and handing it over to the government. In that example, we are in contact with the IOC and the IOC is usually co-ordinating, as it represents all the sports.
How does FIFA monitor or ensure that an association in a non-democratic regime is not affected by political interference?
The congress has decided that all associations should conform to the FIFA Statutes. It’s an ongoing process where associations are reforming their statutes, including associations of non-democratic countries. Of course not all of them have gone through this yet. In some places it’s faster than others. Now more than half of the associations have gone through this change, but it’s a step-by-step process. The FIFA Standard Statutes should ensure among many things, that there is a democratic way of electing the office term bearer of the association.
Are there examples where the situation in a country has significantly improved through FIFA's intervention?
Yes, there are a few. In Ethiopia, for example, there had been a problem for a long time and they were suspended for a while. In the end, we managed to find a way out of the crisis together with the government and the association. After that, the co-operation has been very good with the government. We are doing a lot to help them develop football.
The other case has been Brunei Darussalam. The association had been de-registered by the government, which wanted another organisation to control football. This led to a long suspension between September 2009 and May 2011. But now, the association is re-registered and stable and we are now able to focus together on football development – which is actually FIFA’s No1 objective according to its statutes.