On 12 June 1015, the FIFA Executive Committee appointed former South African government minister Tokyo Sexwale to lead a monitoring committee to oversee issues related to the development of football in Palestine, and alleged interferences, by Israel, with such development. This committee was established on the basis of the decision by the 65th FIFA Congress in May 2015 after the Palestine Football Association had withdrawn its proposal to have the Israel Football Association suspended from FIFA. While this development has largely been overshadowed by the recent developments concerning alleged instances of corruption involving FIFA officials, and the ensuing announcement by the current FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, to resign from his position, it sheds light on the international law underpinnings of decisions made by FIFA when it comes to the status of contested territories in which a given national soccer association is based. What is more, it demonstrates how, over the years, the practice of FIFA has changed in light of developments of international law and what impact international law has when it comes to the current dispute FIFA is confronted with.
Membership in FIFA
During its early years, the FIFA Statute had simply provided that the organization consisted of “the Associations recognized by FIFA as the Associations controlling Association Football in their respective countries, provided that only one Association be recognized in each country” (see FIFA Handbook, 1st ed. 1927, p. 15; see also H. Homburg, FIFA and the ‘Chinese question’ 1954 – 1980: an Exercise of Statutes, Historical Social Research 2006, p. 69 et seq. (71)). Since 1937, FIFA had however already admitted “associations in a colony or dominion” which could then opt for directly joining FIFA whenever the “national football association of the mother country” [sic!] had signaled its consent (ibid., p. 71), thus being implicit evidence of the limited international personality of such dependent territories at the time. In the same vein, the FIFA 1937 Statutes had also provided that “[f]or countries placed under the protectorate of another country, the same principles as for dominions for colonies will be in force.” (ibid.).
As of today, Membership in FIFA is governed by its ‘Regulations Governing the Admission of Associations to FIFA’, Principle 1 of which currently provides that “[a]ny association that is seeking admission to FIFA must put forward an application that contains detailed information on its organisation, its sporting infrastructure and its territory”. Accordingly, each and every membership organization must provide data on the underlying scope ratione loci of its sphere of activities, which in case of territories, the status of which under international law is subject to dispute, might prove difficult. At the same time, Principle 3, para. 1, lit. a) thereof, dealing with the ‘Contents of application’, provides, apart from formalities, that any application for membership must include “[d]ocuments that show that the applicant represents a country in accordance with article 10 of the FIFA Statutes.” Art. 10 FIFA Statutes in turn, dealing with the admission of nationals soccer associations to FIFA, provides in its para. 1 that “[s]ubject to par. 5 and par. 6 below, only one Association shall be recognised in each Country”. For historical reasons, para 5 then provides that “[e]ach of the four British Associations [i.e. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland] is recognised as a separate Member of FIFA”, which thereby by the same token e contrario shows that these regions would otherwise not qualify as ‘countries’ for FIFA purposes. What is more is that Art. 10 para. 6 FIA Statute further provides that “[a]n Association in a region which has not yet gained independence may, with the authorisation of the Association in the Country on which it is dependent, also apply for admission to FIFA.” It is in light of these statutory provisions that football associations from ‘territories’ as divergent as Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, ‘Chinese Taipei’, Hong Kong, the Faroe Islands, as well as New Caledonia, are as of today all members of FIFA, the lack of statehood of the respective underlying ‘territory’ notwithstanding. Read the rest of this entry…