KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Autonomy is one of the Great Issues of State for FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. Sport should be free of political interference, they thunder, banishing rogue states to the sporting equivalent of Siberia if they fail to offer blind obeisance to the statutes ranged against them.
Yet pragmatic examination suggests that the much-vaunted ‘autonomy of sport’ may be merely a western fantasy created to keep the snooping eyes of law-enforcement agencies out of the murky world of sporting finance.
The endemic duplicity, enacted and approved in plain sight, tells its own tale. Last week’s revelations by the Associated Press about how British embassies were told to bat on behalf of Lord Sebastian Coe’s bid to win the IAAF presidency comprised but one more pillar of proof.
Consider this: FIFA and UEFA leaped about in horror when a sports minister in Poland inquired too closely about how the football association was being run in the approaches to Euro 2012. How dare he! Yet these are the same bodies which appear perfectly happy that the Russian football federation is headed by the Russian Sports Minister.
Have the men (and women) of FIFA and the IOC who kicked Kuwait out their chambers in a row over a sports law shown the same angry alacrity over the multiple roles of Vitaly Mutko? Easy answer: No.
Might this also be because Mutko is not only a member of the FIFA and UEFA executive committees but knows all about the details of the successful event bidding by Russia for the Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
Not that Mutko is alone. Far from it. He is merely a high-profile example of sport’s hypocritical approach to its own power game.
Back in the days of Soviet communism the centralisation of power throughout the Warsaw Pact nations was accepted without word. National sports federations were subsidiaries of the governmental sports ministries. Of course they were. Autonomy? What autonomy?
Even now in much of the world, national sports federations are closely linked to government – partly because they depend on the state for subsidies, grants, facilities etc (Yes, in the UK too – consider the role of the Lottery in the Olympic successes of London 2012).
Back to football: In December 1995 Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, fulminated against the Bosman verdict much as Coe ranted about the ‘war on his sport’ as he perceived media intrusion into the secret world of dope-test manipulation.
Johansson was scandalised by the coept that footballers should enjoy merely the same freedom of labour under the [European Union] law as any other employee.
New court action
Now FIFPro complains that the football authorities have moulded the post-Bosman transfer system in a prejudicial manner. So the international players’ union is going back to the courts to pursuit the law to enact the changes which the sport will not.
FIFA and UEFA (and its clubs) are not happy. Going to court is contrary to their statutes. Of course it is. The statutes have been constructed to maintain control within sport’s own corridors of power.
Everyone knows why.
Without the FBI knocking down FIFA’s front gates football’s greedy schemers would still be happily lining their pockets; without the French prosecutors snapping the IAAF tape, athletics would still be shutting out the media war-mongers; without the active intervention of the US judicial system Lance Armstrong’s imitators would still be winning the Tour de France every year.
The autonomy of sport is a giant, self-protective, corrosive fallacy. The vast majority of honest participants – whether competitors or officials – need to know that they are equal under the law with the spectators in the stadia and tele-viewers at home.
Sport, for its own good, needs to be a part of the real world . . . not apart from it.