FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the global governing body for football, and its impact goes far beyond the football pitch. FIFA is responsible for establishing the laws of the game, enforcing a code of conduct for clubs, players, and organizations, and ensuring fair play in football worldwide. With so much power, FIFA’s decisions can have a significant impact on national economies and other areas of society.
However, FIFA’s ability to operate as a largely self-contained organization that can shield itself from outside interference has raised concerns. FIFA funds all of the national federations, who select FIFA committee members. Lower FIFA officials are incentivized to follow FIFA decisions closely. When these decisions have been tainted by corruption and bribery, as has been the case in the past, FIFA becomes unaccountable to a democratic system of election for officials or to many national laws. This has led to questionable decisions such as awarding Qatar the right to host the World Cup despite recorded bribery and allowing them to hold onto that right despite using forced labor in building stadiums, all while being funded by FIFA to continue doing so.
FIFA’s government system is similar to a state’s federal government. At the top is FIFA’s Congress, which legislates the laws of the game, passes statutes dictating a code of conduct, and generally controls the direction of global football policy. Each FIFA member country selects one member of their federation to represent them in Congress. When FIFA’s Congress is not in session, disputes about statute violations, as well as the passage of emergency statutes and regulations, is handled by the Executive Committee. Committee members act as the legislative body when Congress is not in session, which is the majority of the year. Included in the committee is the President and other executive officials chosen by Congress.
The statutes, codes, and goals that FIFA’s Congress establishes set outer boundaries for regional federations, who are responsible for “respect[ing] the statutes, aims and ideals of football’s governing body and promot[ing] and manag[ing] our sport accordingly.” However, enforcement of this system revolves around FIFA’s court system, which includes three judicial bodies: the Disciplinary Committee, the Ethics Committee, and the Appeals Committee. The Disciplinary Committee enforces sanctions and banishment of people, clubs, leagues, and federations for violating FIFA’s statutes and Disciplinary Code. The Ethics Committee investigates and punishes breaches of the Code of Ethics. The Appeals Committee handles appeals from both committees and can reverse decisions or adjust punishments. The Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) has the final say on any dispute on appeal. When someone bringing a dispute before the Court of Appeals is dissatisfied with the result, they may bring the dispute to the CAS, who will apply FIFA rules and occasionally Swiss law to settle the dispute on a de novo review.
However, FIFA’s legal system is almost entirely self-contained, and when signing up to participate in FIFA events, players, clubs, and organizations agree to bring disputes only to FIFA courts. Even if a case is brought to the CAS, they will strictly apply FIFA rules and regulations. This means that FIFA has exclusive control over the welfare of players and is able to implement rules that give FIFA and its organizations and clubs overwhelming power to control the lives of their players.
To address these concerns, a collective effort by domestic leagues and member nations’ federations to hold FIFA accountable is needed. This can be achieved by increasing transparency, improving the democratic system of election for officials, and implementing strict measures to prevent corruption and bribery. FIFA should be held accountable for its decisions and actions, and it should be made clear that it is not above the law.