PtG Article 13.10.2006

IOC and FIFA in row with UEFA over EU intervention in sport

Yet another battle has broken out between UEFA and FIFA and this time FIFA is backed by IOC, spearheaded by Jacques Rogge. IOC and FIFA are unhappy that EU wants to get involved in the affairs of elite sport. UEFA on the other hand calls for stronger co-operation with the EU.

Simply put, UEFA does not believe that the international world of sport is equipped to tackle problems such as illegal gambling, illegal agents, trafficking of young athletes, match fixing and corruption on its own.

“A healthy future for sport in Europe can only be achieved by politics and sport working together,” was the message from UEFA and the Council of Europe after a conference on 29 September in Strassbourg.

Hereby UEFA supports the intentions in the Independent European Sport Review which calls for a closer link between EU and world sport. The review was initiated under the United Kingdoms ’ presidency of the EU and chaired by the former Portuguese Minister José Luís Arnaut.

”Many argue that governments should not interfere in sport, but this is a naive view”, the CEO of UEFA, Lars-Christer Olsson said in Strasbourg.

“Governments are already supporting sport by for instance providing infrastructure and giving support for individual talents”, Olsson said and stressed that co-operation was necessary to create legal certainty for clubs and associations.

Also, UEFA believes stronger co-operation could strengthen rather than weaken the autonomy of sport because it could define the boundaries of government intervention.

IOC and FIFA unhappy about planned EU White Paper   

These positive messages from Strasbourg contrast sharply with the tensions at a meeting that took place earlier in September between EU commissioner Jan Figel and representatives for the IOC, FIFA and UEFA.

At the meeting, Jan Figel asked for ideas for the content of the upcoming EU ”White Paper” on sport.

According to information obtained by Play the Game, representatives from the IOC and FIFA loudly opposed the Independent European Sport Review at the meeting that was closed to the public.

Apparently, the atmosphere at the meeting was so that Commissioner Jan Figel acidly remarked that in the future the world of sport could look forward to seeing its questions answered at the European Court of Justice. In other words: It was not possible to envision political cooperation and disputes were therefore likely to end up being settled in court rooms.

IOC and FIFA warns EU to stay away from sports governance

To emphasize their unhappiness, IOC and FIFA sent a letter by fax addressed to Jan Figel two days later demanding that the EU only deals with sport political initiatives that ”should only be based on promoting the role of sports in the existing EU policy fields, as well as taking into account the specificity of sports whenever applying EU legislation on sport”.

In terms of issues of governance, EU should keep its hands off.

”We believe that the issue of governance is of outmost importance for the sports movement and that this issue should be dealt with by sports themselves based on the principle of the autonomy of the sports movement.”

The letter is signed by FIFA-president Sepp Blatter, IOC president Jacques Rogge as well as three other heavy weights in the Olympic movement: Mario Vázquez Raña, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, Denis Oswald, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations and René Fasel, president of the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations.

And to underline the determination and importance of the letter, a copy was sent to all ministers of sport in all EU member countries.

It has not been possible to get comments from EU commissioner Jan Figel but a spokesperson says that the commissioner has not yet responded to the harsh letter from Lausanne.

Read the conclusions from the “Play Fair with Sport” conference in Strassbourg

”In the first version of this article, we presented the Independent European Sport Review as an initiative by the European Commission. The Commission has asked us to rectify, since the initiative was taken under the UK presidency of the EU with the backing of the EU sports ministers, and the review was made without assistance or interference from the European Commission.”