Authored by: Hannah Kent
Whilst FIFA has been a topic of discussion over recent years for a variety of reasons, FIFA’s powers to intervene in its member associations’ governance receives little attention. Such powers are exercised by imposing “normalisation committees” on member associations that FIFA determines are not complying with the FIFA Statutes (the Statutes).
Out of FIFA’s 211 members, a number of associations have recent or current experience of normalisation committee intervention – Kuwait, Guinea, Guatemala, Greece, Argentina, Thailand, Mali and Benin to name a few. In the last two months, normalisation committees have been appointed in Ghana1 and Uruguay2 and the mandate of the Cameroonian Football Association’s normalisation committee has been extended from February 2018 to 16 December 20183.
FIFA has also recently released a statement regarding the suspension of the Sierra Leone Football Association following government interference4 in the organisation and administration of the nation’s football association following allegations of wrongdoing and corruption against the president and General Secretary5. It is not clear if a normalisation committee will be appointed for Sierra Leone and FIFA plans to await the outcome of the trial against the President before decided on any further action6.
In light of this, this article analyses the role of FIFA’s normalisation committees. Specifically, it looks at:
- When FIFA is entitled to intervene
- Circumstances in which FIFA has intervened
- How normalisation committees are constituted
- The scope of their powers
- What happens if there are disputes
- Key examples of normalisation committees
- Comparisons with other sports
- Legitimacy of FIFA’s intervention
WHEN IS FIFA ENTITLED TO INTERVENE?
FIFA’s power to intervene is derived from the Statutes.
Article 8 provides that:
“All bodies and officials must observe the Statutes, regulations, decisions and Code of Ethics of FIFA in their activities.
Executive bodies of member associations may under exceptional circumstances be removed from office by the Council in consultation with the relevant confederation and replaced by a normalisation committee for a specific period of time.
Every person and organisation involved in the game of football is obliged to observe the Statutes and regulations of FIFA as well as the principles of fair play” [emphasis added]7.
The “exceptional circumstances” in which FIFA may intervene are not clearly defined but tend to involve a member association’s failure to “manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties…”8 even where such influence is not the fault of the member association9. Further, member associations are required to comply with the principles of good governance, including but not limited to political and religious neutrality, prohibition of discrimination, and judicial independence10.
The appointment of a normalisation committee is regarded as a last resort when FIFA considers that the domestic governance of the game has irretrievably broken down. The constitution of a normalisation committee usually follows the suspension of a member association by the Council, where that member association is unable to confirm that it has demonstrated that it is able to comply with the requisite principles of good governance.
Whilst suspended, a member association loses all of its membership rights as defined in Article 13 of the Statutes, and national and affiliated club teams are not entitled to take part in international competitions until the suspension is lifted. Other member associations are also not permitted to have sporting contact with the member association during its suspension.
CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH FIFA HAS INTERVENED
FIFA appointed a normalisation committee for the Kuwait Football Association (KFA) on 18 January 2018 following a 2015 suspension for alleged government interference in the affairs of the KFA11. Similarly, FIFA intervened in Mali’s Football Association (FEMAFOOT) for government interference after the Mali Sports Minister dissolved the executive committee of FEMAFOOT12.
In the case of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), the executive committee was removed following a ban to the FAT’s president for a breach to FIFA’s Code of Ethics. He was given a suspended 16-month sentence by a Thai court for falsifying documents to amend the FAT statutes ahead of the FAT’s presidential election. A normalisation committee was set up in 201513.
FIFA intervened in the governance of the Uruguayan Football Association after the sudden resignation of its president in July 2018. His resignation followed the release of compromising audio recordings, the content of which is unknown (although there are some suggestions that these recordings contained comments about sports administrators, a member of the government and sports journalists).
FIFA’s intervention was “based on the lack of guarantees for the electoral process”14. The normalisation committee for the Ghanian Football Association was appointed following similar concerns regarding breaches of ethics in the member association and government interference.
CONSTITUTION OF NORMALISATION COMMITTEES
Normalisation committees are composed of an adequate number of members identified by FIFA and the relevant confederation and stakeholders. What is viewed as an adequate number of members varies, and normalisation committees have been composed of three members in Uruguay15, four in Ghana16, and six in Thailand17 by way of some examples.
Members of normalisation committees are not required to have any particular skill-sets, but it is usually the case that members hail from the country in which the national association is based. Normalisation committees tend to be made up of members from different backgrounds, albeit with some knowledge or experience of football and financial and legal affairs.
For example, the three members of the Uruguayan Football Association’s normalisation committee include a member of the FIFA Governance Committee, a former executive of one of Uruguay’s top clubs18, and an economist (the former Secretary of Economic and Financial Affairs at the Uruguayan Football Association19).
The four members of the Ghanaian Football Association’s normalisation committee include a well-connected businessman known for sponsorship deals for Ghanaian football clubs, a former CEO of a telecommunication network, a lawyer and a former board member of a Ghanaian football club.
The members of the normalisation committee are then confirmed by FIFA’s Bureau of the Council (which deals with all matters requiring immediate attention between two meetings of the Council20). FIFA retains the right to add or remove any members of the normalisation committee as it sees fit.
All members of the normalisation committee are required to pass an eligibility test21 in accordance with the Statutes and the FIFA Governance Regulations22, which is conducted by the FIFA Review Committee23. FIFA describes the content of such eligibility checks as “open-ended and vague”24 which require clarification on a case-by-case basis.
FIFA aims to make their application as objective and certain as possible. In conducting these checks, the Review Committee has been mindful of the guidelines stemming from decisions taken by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a small number of cases relevant to the conducting of integrity checks.
Standards vary depending on the position for which the eligibility checks are applied, as the CAS has held that the integrity check is an abstract test to assess whether a person is perceived to be a person of integrity for the function at stake 25. As such, a direct violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics is no prerequisite to a person not passing the integrity check. However, a history of financial impropriety and an involvement in national or local government are severely frowned upon by FIFA26.
It is worth noting that the Review Committee does not have any investigatory powers and makes a decision based on the information available to it at the time.
SCOPE OF POWERS
The normalisation committee takes over the day-to-day running of the member association whilst drafting new statutes and policies for the association that adhere to the FIFA Statutes and the relevant national law. The new statutes must contain, at a minimum, provisions relating to neutrality in politics and religion, prohibition of discrimination, independence from any political interference, judicial independence and respect of the Laws of the Game.
The normalisation committee also organises and conducts elections for a new executive committee. None of the members of the normalisation committee are able to run for any of the vacant positions in the elections. Members of the existing executive committee are required to vacate their posts whilst the normalisation committee undergoes its work. If they wish to take up positions in the new executive committee, they are expected to contest the positions in the elections organised by the normalisation committee.
Potential candidates for the executive committee are required to undergo integrity checks as per the FIFA Code of Ethics, regardless of their previous position, which are carried out by the FIFA Review Committee using the same guidelines as set out above.
FIFA can continue to monitor the member association’s progress by way of a monitoring committee, implemented on a case-by-case basis. The normalisation committee remains in place for a specified period of time and will disband when all the required tasks are complete. FIFA has the discretion to extend the relevant period of time for as long as it is required, as in the case of Cameroonian Football Association (FECAFOOT)27.
It was announced in September 2018 that FECAFOOT’s normalisation committee was making good progress but that certain important tasks had not been completed. Notably, the adoption of statutes ensuring compliance with the Statutes had not been completed, nor had the organisation of elections for the new executive committee taken place.
As a result, the Bureau of the Council viewed an extension to the normalisation committee’s mandate until 16 December 2018 as necessary. There is no limit as to how many times FIFA can extend a normalisation committee’s mandate, although it expects the normalisation committee to provide a roadmap so that the mandate can be fulfilled in the time provided to it28.
Similarly, the normalisation committee for FEMAFOOT (the Mali Football Association) was extended to 31 October 2018 so that the key aims of revising the statutes, setting up the judicial and conducting transparent elections could be met.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE MEMBER ASSOCIATION DISPUTES THE APPOINTMENT?
There are no easily available records of member associations challenging the appointment of a normalisation committee. The Statutes provide that confederations, member associations and leagues “shall agree to comply fully with any decision passed by the relevant FIFA bodies which, according to these Statutes, are final and not subject to appeal”29. Further, member associations are obliged to “comply fully with the… decisions of FIFA bodies at any time”30.
Some member associations have attempted to challenge the appointment of a normalisation committee through local judicial means. FIFA tends to respond to these sorts of challenges by promptly suspending the member association until the election of a new executive committee is conducted. For example, FIFA suspended the Benin Football Association (FBF) after a local judicial court approved an injunction to impede the holding of the 2016 presidential election, despite the FBF being overseen by a normalisation committee since September 201531.
Member associations have been willing to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on a number of matters involving FIFA, including audit orders (in the case of the Ivory Coast Football Federation32) and membership33. However, the outcome of such an appeal would be difficult to predict. Whilst the CAS has upheld appeals against FIFA in cases such as the Gibraltar Football Association’s application for FIFA membership34, it has also shown a willingness to approve a sports governing body’s intervention in governance matters where necessary – for example the suspension by the IAAF of the All Russia Athletics Federation from IAAF membership35. Any appeal to the CAS would most likely turn on its facts.
Whilst normalisation committees can achieve FIFA’s desired outcome, there are notable examples which open the process up to criticism for being largely ineffective and for preserving the status quo rather than revitalising the situation.
The example of Guinea demonstrates how smoothly the normalisation committee process is supposed to run, with a relatively quick and positive outcome. Guinea had a normalisation committee imposed on it by FIFA in April 2016 following “internal wrangles” which brought all football competitions in the country to a halt36.
The normalisation committee completed its task 11 months later, with the adoption of a new constitution and the election of a new president in March 201737.
The case of the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) is particularly dramatic. FIFA intervened in October 201638 following extensive governance issues including the Greek Sports Ministry’s cancellation of the Greek Cup final in 2016 as well as the postponement of the 2016-17 season due to a dispute between Greece’s football clubs, the HFF and the government over the selection of referees. FIFA established a normalisation committee in October 2016. Elections were held in August 2017, despite threats and an alleged arson attack.
The new executive committee is still monitored by FIFA. The normalisation committee was criticised for its inclusion of some individuals who could be deemed to have a conflict of interest and links have also been drawn between those implicated in match-fixing cases and their potential influence over referee appointments. It has also been reported that as many as 75% of second-tier games in Greece are showing signs of match-fixing39.
The Argentine Football Association was largely leaderless until Luis Segura became president after a suspicious 38-38 vote by a 75 person Congress40. Segura was later charged by US authorities with fraudulent administration41 and FIFA set up a normalisation committee in July 201642, which was plagued with issues including a players’ strike for non-payment and postponement of the Argentinian league43. Many have criticised the new executive committee.
The new President is a former president of a Third Division football club and is joined on the board by the presidents of Boca Juniors and of Independiente44. People have, unsurprisingly, questioned the suitability of the new board members.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER SPORTS
FIFA is not the only organisation in pursuit of good governance and it can be suggested that FIFA’s actions compliment the wider change of attitude towards governance issues in sport.
Other sports governing bodies have taken steps to intervene where serious issues over governance have been raised – see for example the unprecedented decision45 in December 2017 by the IOC to withdraw funding from the Association of International Boxing Associations (AIBA). The approach taken by the IOC was different to that taken by FIFA insofar as the IOC suspended funding until it was satisfied that the AIBA had demonstrated sufficient compliance and the IOC has not (yet) stepped into the organisation of the AIBA’s affairs.
The IOC has placed other federations under similar scrutiny, such as the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Biathlon Union. Parallels can also be drawn between FIFA’s actions and the IAAF’s decision not to reinstate the Russian Athletics Federation’s membership, yet these governing bodies have not gone as far as FIFA in respect of direct intervention.
LEGITIMACY OF INTERVENTION
The protection of the integrity of the game is of utmost importance to FIFA46 particularly at a time of significant scrutiny (and reform) of its own governance. FIFA’s own governance is in the process of changing, but many have noted that the 2016 reforms did not go far enough – with standards falling far short of those expected of a UK listed company, for example47.
Whilst normalisation committees often have the desired effect of bringing a member association’s governance in line with FIFA’s expectations, the difficulties lie in the determination of what good governance is in the context of a truly global sport.
Further, given the integrity issues historically faced by FIFA, questions could be raised regarding the organisation’s role as moral arbiter – perhaps an independent body would be more effective in decisions such as these.
The establishment of a global independent body as method of oversight of regulatory and governance affairs would be an admirable aim, however the hurdles of doing so are unlikely to be overcome any time soon. Any independent body would first face the challenge of obtaining sufficient funding to conduct such wide-ranging and extensive work. There would need to be agreement from FIFA’s 211 members as to the mandate of the independent body and people of sufficient expertise would have to be appointed to carry out that mandate.
How these independent people would be chosen and the integrity standard to which they would be held is another area of contention – including the question of whether they would be subject to the same integrity checks as currently imposed by FIFA. As we have seen, global governing bodies such as WADA are not immune to criticism, despite broadly being seen as the legitimate and authoritative body for matters within their scope of expertise.
To FIFA’s credit, its assertion of authority over the governance of its member associations cannot be questioned. FIFA has certainly not been afraid to flex its muscles in ensuring its authority is not undermined. For example, a normalisation committee was imposed on the Guatemalan Football Association (FEDEFUT) in December 2015 but FIFA announced in 2016 that it was no longer able to operate after a FEDFUT general assembly rejected the normalisation committee’s mandate.
FIFA promptly responded to this by suspending FEDEFUT48. A joint FIFA and CONCACAF mission visited Guatemala and took the decision in May 2018 to appoint another normalisation committee. The Chairman of this committee wrote to FIFA confirming that the normalisation committee was fully operational. Given the history of normalisation committees in FEDEFUT, FIFA took the decision to appoint an International Steering Committee to oversee and monitor the implementation of the normalisation committee’s mandate. If this was challenged by FEDEFUT, it would be automatically suspended once again.
These examples of intervention should serve as a stark warning of the significant consequences of corruption within football. FIFA is willing to step in to member associations when it considers its position is being undermined, with suspension of (and subsequent imposition of a normalisation committee on) the member association a very likely consequence.
FIFA provides global rules which must be universally applied. These rules were not designed for the purpose of a single situation, which creates challenging situations when applying specific rules to hundreds of countries around the world, each with different ideas of standards of governance. The regulations put in place by FIFA are binding and must be observed at all times by every member association. The compulsory nature of the FIFA regulations flows from the need for FIFA to be able to achieve its objectives as set out in the Statutes.
Although individuals will have varying opinions on FIFA itself, normalisation committees have been effective in a number of cases and continue to work as a method of implementation of good governance.
Whilst the use of an independent body would be desirable, the status quo is working and FIFA remain the only organisation with sufficient authority to enforce such action. FIFA must however be alive to criticism in acknowledging its failures and be prepared to monitor member associations, scrutinise the appointments of committee members, and keep a watchful eye over the suitability of candidates for executive committee positions.