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N. Korea Deserves a Hard Kick for Abusing Its Soccer Team (Update)
Posted on Aug 15, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
Another controversy that arose out of World Cup 2010 came when Nigeria’s new president, Goodluck Jonathan, angrily reacted to his country’s disappointing performance by imposing a two-year ban on team play. However, in the face of a threat from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, Jonathan quickly lifted the suspension. FIFA had set a deadline for compliance, saying that if the Nigerian ruling was not overturned, the African nation’s soccer federation would be expelled from the world body and would be denied $8 million it was to receive for the team’s World Cup participation. That tough stance worked.
Under FIFA statues—which have power over national soccer associations or federations, not directly over nations themselves—governments may not interfere with operations of teams. Article 13.1 (g) declares that member associations are obligated “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.” FIFA’s statue document goes on to say violation of that provision may lead “to sanctions even if the third-party influence was not the fault of the Member concerned.”
What this means is that if a government meddles with a soccer team, FIFA can suspend the nation’s soccer association and thereby ban its teams from international competition under the FIFA umbrella. Put another way: Governments, keep your hands off soccer or we will kick your teams out.
The financial impact of a ban can be considerable. “A suspension goes beyond the suspension of the national teams,” a FIFA spokesman said last month. “It also freezes financial help. …”
FIFA scared French officialdom into backing off after the government threatened to jump into a major controversy that developed during the World Cup. Following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s vow to investigate the poor play and dissension that roiled the national squad and its coaching staff, FIFA President Sepp Blatter sent what he called a “clear and clean message.” “In France they have made an ‘affair d’etat’ with football, but football remains in the hands of the federation,” Blatter said. “We will help the national association and if it cannot be solved by consultation, then the only thing we have is to suspend the federation. Definitely, I can tell you that political interference will be dealt with by FIFA notwithstanding what kind of interference and what is the size of the country.”
What puzzled me as I researched this article in early August was that in the more than five weeks since the unhappy event at the Working People’s Culture Palace, FIFA seemingly had not uttered a single public word about the North Korean affair. So I sent an e-mail on Aug. 9 to the world federation posing six questions about its rules and what if anything it was doing in regard to the reports. The next day I received a two-sentence reply from the FIFA media department: “Thank you for your e-mail. At the time of writing, there is no pending case involving the Korea DPR Football Association therefore please understand we cannot do any comment.”
I was surprised that FIFA, after having been so quick and resolute in laying down the law to Nigeria and France, was now refusing to confront Korea. But it turns out that FIFA was, shall we say, less than forthcoming in the terse note it sent to me. At roughly the same time that FIFA was e-mailing me, the situation was morphing from “no pending case” to “FIFA to probe reports of punishment of North Korean players and coach”—which was the headline of an article that popped up on the CNN website in midweek.
FIFA has justifiably been criticized on many fronts over the years, but I’ve got to say it rose a few points on my personal scale when I read that it was off the dime concerning North Korea’s treatment of the players.
Kim Jong Il’s crime against the sports community should be fully addressed. It’s difficult or even impossible to move against many of his various offenses, but this is a case where punitive action is both easy and called for: If the allegations are supported—and I think they will be—FIFA should bar North Korea from international competition, even though a suspension, sadly, would hurt that nation’s soccer players, coaches and organizations. The dictator should not be allowed to get away with having his proxies so deeply insult those who took the field under the North Korean flag. When it comes to sports, an unyielding line should be drawn before this bully.
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