January Transfer Window

The transfer window slams shut tomorrow (copyright Sky). £85m of business or not tomorrow as per last year’s insanity, it’s been a very, very quiet one. Will have a look through the best deals tomorrow – until then, pray for Bryan Swanson’s sanity.

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FIFA and the Law

My first post of 2012, and a long time coming, it has been. I’m going for the legal/football combo again a la my Bosman post.

When I began this blog, I went on a few rants about the way FIFA had been conducting itself in relation to, among other things, the dreaded snood (remember them?). Something far more sinister has been drawn to my attention this week, however – the attitude of FIFA to the sovereignty of its World Cup host nations. The sovereignty of parliament in one’s respective home country is something each law student learns in his/her first year at university – that parliamentary sovereignty is absolute and that the nation’s power and standing globally is drawn from that sovereignty. FIFA on the other hand, would have you believe that, while a World Cup is on, it holds the sovereignty of the relevant nation state.

This all stems, of course, from the Brazilian parliament’s efforts this week to get through a bill which will regulate how the World Cup in 2014 will run. Two main points have caused a bit of a ruckus and some quite public tantrums from the governing body. Brazil wanted, understandably, to introduce reduced ticket prices for the young and the elderly. FIFA baulked at this. Brazil has a long-standing alcohol ban in place in its football stadiums (much like the UK) and wishes to keep this ban in place. FIFA again kicked up a fuss, with Jerome Valcke (FIFA’s egregious press spokesman) stating that “Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup so we’re going to have them. The fact that we have the right to sell beer has to be a part of the law.” Or, to put it more correctly, and cynically, FIFA has a contract with Anheuser-Busch InBev worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We’ll take the World Cup off you if you don’t play ball with our sponsor.

This, I have to say, does not sit right with me at all. If Brazil wishes to have an alcohol ban in its stadiums for public health and safety reasons, I find it horrifying that a football tournament can usurp that. This of course, was seen to great effect in South Africa in 2010 too. FIFA, dictating to a developing country as to how it wished to run a World Cup in that country, and the country being forced to cash in its sovereignty for the privilege of hosting the tournament and having 10 empty stadia to deal with after the final.

The South African legislation is of course written in English, and South African law, fact fans, is rather similar to our own dear Scots law. So, one can at least get a sense of the kind of things FIFA would try to impose should a World Cup ever be held on this island again, and the kind of things the good people on Tim Vickery’s patch can expect in 2014.

The South African legislation took the form of “Special Measures Acts”. This of course translated as FIFA getting whatever it needed from South Africa in return for hosting their tournament, with the punishment of having hosting rights removed being in the back of South African minds. One could even go as far to say as this is why FIFA Exec Committees have tended to pick less developed countries (either financially or democratically speaking) as World Cup hosts for 2010-2022 – the ease of getting the legislation it wants through with the threat of withdrawal and the reputational damage that would cause to a developing nation – but that would obviously be wrong of me to make such an inference.

Anyway, the Special Measures Acts (and associated regulations) are rather telling as to what Brazil can expect, and in fact more sinister than forcing a temporary weakening of an alcohol ban. Some of the lovely provisions included:

– a six-month jail sentence for anyone caught selling unauthorised World Cup merchandise in an “exclusion zone”, and for being caught in possession of an “authorised commercial object” (i.e. merchandise which doesn’t involve a World Cup sponsor or FIFA) in such a zone;

– a three-month jail sentence for anyone driving their car into a FIFA-designated non-traffic area;

– suspending the prohibition of the use and sale of certain medicines; and

– criminalising “ambush marketing”, e.g. those Dutch ladies (and by extension Robbie Earle…) advertising Bavaria beer in South Africa.

2010 also, of course, saw the establishment of the infamous “FIFA courts” – the fast-track judicial set-up for anyone caught committing a crime at or in the vicinity of something or someone to do with the World Cup. Crimes tried in these lovely courts included, of course, some of the ridiculous sanctions mentioned above. No doubt these too will pop up in Fortaleza and Manaus come 2014.

It is the criminalisation of what are, to my mind, civil wrongs, that I find the most disturbing about FIFA’s recent approach to World Cups. FIFA is a multi-billion dollar organisation – it took $2bn back to Switzerland after the 2010 World Cup. It could surely, like most organisations choose to do, enforce its trademark and contractual rights in the civil courts. It would rather, it would seem, bully both host nations and their citizens into forfeiting their sovereignty and their human rights for the sake of sponsorship money.

Football is certainly a more commercial game now than it has ever been – but writing criminal protections for that commerciality into law is a step too far. One only hopes that the Brazilian politicans stand up for their country and their people and resist these ridiculous demands of the governing body (“for the good of the game” – Ha!). No doubt if that is the case, though, FIFA will simply wave the ultimate sanction in front of Brazil. Sovereignty and being able to rule your own country, or the World Cup – it seems Brazil and her lawmakers can only have one or the other as far as FIFA is concerned.

Mine’s a Bud, Jerome.