By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 31st 2021)
A worrying trend has emerged in African football and despite the name, it is far from normal. Presidents of African Football Associations are not being allowed to complete their terms in office. Instead, they are being removed from office and replaced with appointed Normalisation Committees.
Often these Normalisation Committees fail to complete their tasks within the allotted time and request more time. They usually get it. They are not alone in overstaying their mandates. While some Presidents of FAs are removed from office early others are allowed to exceed their terms without consequence.
The use or threat of a Normalisation Committee has been wielded as a big stick by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) against African nations in particular and not in an even-handed manner. Nigeria and Sierra Leone faced sanctions from FIFA as a result of legal decisions in their countries that impacted the governing bodies of their football.
While governmental interference in the independence of domestic courts should not be tolerated and not just in football, nor should FIFA be allowed to dictate terms to member nations, effectively demanding fealty by commanding them to ignore their own laws and courts and acquiesce with FIFA’s whims.
FIFA’s statutes should be observed by all members without exception – well almost. The one exception is when FIFA’s statutes are seen as trumping the sovereignty and independence of domestic courts. FIFA must respect the decisions of courts in sovereign nations. Ironically, it picks and chooses which decisions it will abide by and which it will use the stick on.
On occasion FIFA respects court decisions. The Sports Lagardère issue is a case in point. The dispute affected the whole of African football. It took African football off the screens in that continent, but it was unique in that a court decision – without a complaint by that country’s FA – against the Confederation of African Football (CAF) declared the Lagardère/CAF agreement null and void and sanctioned the officials who had signed the deal, Issa Hayatou and Hicham el-Amrani.
They were CAF’s President and Secretary-General at the time. While confederations are not members of FIFA, their members are. The mess was inherited by the new CAF administration of Malagasy, Ahmad Ahmad. Despite having little choice but to comply with the decision of the Egyptian court, he has been blamed by fans annoyed at missing out on following their teams (see previous articles).
A court decision in Egypt affected the whole of Africa. CAF, based in Egypt, had to comply and FIFA could not act against CAF as CAF is not a member of FIFA. Interestingly, FIFA made no attempt to sanction Egypt’s FA or its football. The former would be hard as Egypt’s FA resigned on mass after the AFCON failure of 2019. But Egypt has not been banned from competitions. There have been no sanctions against Egyptian football. Its most successful
club Al Ahly went on to win the CAF Champions League – including its predecessor the African Cup of Champions Clubs – for the ninth time long after the Lagardère court decision.
Even though the Egyptian FA had no say in the Lagardère decision, if resorting to domestic courts is not permitted, why has this passed without any sanction on Egyptian football? Either the rule is no resorting to domestic courts or decisions of domestic courts are respected – it can’t be both.
But Egypt is not alone in having the decision of its domestic court respected without sanction. A Belgian court initially found that a third division Belgian club could not be compelled to accept arbitration – effectively the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – and the Belgian FA accepted the court’s decision. So what sanction was imposed on the Belgian FA and its football?
Well, nothing. Belgium was not banned and even the club, RFC Seraing, was not sanctioned when a Brussels court ruled in their favour in 2018. The club’s decision to resort to law and Belgium’s FA acceptance of it was against FIFA’ rules. That had resulted in bans on others, so why not Belgium? They were ranked number one in the world in FIFA’s rankings at that time. Would FIFA ban the best team in the world – not a chance.
FIFA waited. Last year an appellate court in Belgium overturned the original decision. FIFA highlighted that decision, but it has yet to explain why African FAs are threatened with bans and Belgium got a free pass.