PtG Article 08.11.2006

FIFA softens towards EU whilst IOC sends mixed signals

About a month after having posted a joint and quite strongly worded letter to European Commissioner Jan Figel, the tone from FIFA and the IOC seems to soften a bit.

In the letter, they strongly refused to use the new Independent European Sport Review as a basis for the future collaboration with EU.

The reason, they wrote, was that the report was intended to allow EU to meddle in the governance of sport, an issue far too important and specific to be influenced by others than the inner circles of sport itself.

Yet, by the end of October, FIFA and UEFA sent out a joint statement (link disabled) showing a retreating FIFA while UEFA confirms its positive attitude towards a collaboration with the EU.

In the declaration, the two football organisations announce that they support the main conclusions of the report and realise the need for sport to get “legal certainty” – which translates into predictable and common standards in legislation concerning sport within the European nations.

FIFA and UEFA also agree with the report on the need for guidelines that distinguish between the areas sport should govern independently and the areas where government involvement is accepted.

Furthermore, FIFA and UEFA accept that legislators show interest in the controversial topic of sports governance:

”We understand and accept the requests of political institutions towards sport's governing bodies regarding the need for proper governance and we are prepared to take upon ourselves this responsibility in football,” the joint statement reads.

However, both UEFA and FIFA reject the report’s suggestion to have a government controlled European Sports Agency to monitor developments in the world of sport.

Conflict potential

Despite an officially united front, the report initiated by the sports ministers from UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain holds great potential for conflict in the top circles of international football.

The report points to UEFA as EU’s future allies when it comes to dealings with football. The report also recommends that the EU and UEFA should increase control with the European betting industry.

Thereby, the report pokes at FIFA’s soft spots; FIFA does not take kindly to seeing UEFA’s position of power strengthened.

FIFA wants as much direct contact with clubs and players as possible. Meanwhile UEFA and other continental confederations work to get more power over FIFA that today is governed by the national member federations without the influence of the continental confederations.

Mixed signals from the IOC

In this case, signals from the IOC are mixed and less precise.

According to a report from Reuters of 26 October 2006, IOC president Jacques Rogge has informed the British minister of sport, Richard Caborn who initiated the report, that he regrets signing the angry letter to the EU.

Since then, a spokesperson from the IOC has confirmed that IOC stands by the letter.

”It is a strange mixture: On the one hand they are happy to say that the content of the report is good. On the other they do not like to back down and change position,” an international sports official says.

It seems that the IOC and a number of European sports federations are disappointed about not having been given sufficient opportunity to get influence. There is also disappointment that the report is called a ”sport review” even though it only deals with football.

The protests has led to the removal of a few remarks in the final version of the report that indicated that the recommendations in the report could be used as a basis for all types of sport.

But other than that, hardly any changes have been made to the report. The first edition was released in May.

While the report was initiated by sports ministers from the EU, it will be the European Commission that continues the process by creating a ”White Paper on the Role of Sport in Europe”.

The European ministers of sport, the IOC and the sports federations will debate the issue again at a meeting in Brussels on 27-28 November 2006. But the sports movements should not have too high expectations as it has lobbied in vain for many years to obtain rules of exception within the EU as the European Commission and the European Court of Justice maintains that matters must be resolved on a case-by-case basis.