What is so bad about French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanting to know what happened to his team in South Africa? FIFA views Sarkozy as going too far. But this is about FIFA taking the rules too far.
Sarkozy is not so much interested in why France, the 1998 World Cup champions and the losing finalist in 2006, crashed out of the first round in 2010. The pundits can take care of that aspect. Sarkozy is more concerned about the players who went on strike at training after forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech.
When the team returned to France, Sarkozy met striker Thierry Henry to discuss what happened, then the prime minister and the sports minister to discuss ways to reform French soccer. What’s wrong with that? This is an investigation of the squad’s meltdown in an unprecedented insubordination on the world soccer stage which heaped embarrassment on the nation.
This was a mutiny by Les Bleus and needed urgent attention, up to Sarkozy himself.
Again, the inquest is not being conducted over the French results, abysmal as they were, but the conduct of the players, pitiful as they were.
However, FIFA, football’s world governing body, contends that Sarkozy is meddling, that this is political interference and as such, France risks suspension from global tournaments.
What apparently most set FIFA boss Sepp Blatter off was the announcement by French soccer federation chief Jean-Pierre Escalettes that he planned to quit. Blatter decided to believe the resignation was at the behest of the French government, when in fact Escalettes made no such affirmation.
On any such occasion, Blatter will gladly refer anyone to FIFA’s official rule book, Article 13.1.(g) which states: National federations are obliged "to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties" – namely "politicians, governments, states, media, etc" – or face suspension from international soccer matches and business.
Teams, referees and soccer officials can be barred from participating, even – and this should be underlined 10 times – if the federation is the innocent victim of government intervention.
But if there was ever a time for FIFA to intervene in the football affairs of a country, it would surely have been in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein, when his son Uday was in charge of the Iraqi team. Under Uday’s leadership, reports have it that "motivational lectures to the team included threats to cut off players’ legs, while missed practices resulted in prison time and losses resulted in flogging with electric cable or baths in raw sewage. If penalties or an open goal was missed or own goals were scored then that person would have their feet whipped with thorns."
These horror stories may or may not be true but believe it or not, FIFA said and did nothing about Uday’s methodology. FIFA opened not a sole investigation to even attempt to verify or refute the allegations.
So much for FIFA’s stand on government interference as well as FIFA’s own behavior of sometimes looking away from how its associate member organizations are run, and in this instance, if one associate is not functioning properly.
IF FIFA wants to go after presidents, then it should turn its sights on Nigerian leader Jonathan, who has the fabulous first name of Goodluck, and who has suspended the national team for two years following its poor World Cup "to put its house in order."
President Jonathan indeed needs all the luck in the world. Nigeria’s fate might be worse than France; it risks being expelled entirely from playing any football if FIFA decides there has been government interference.
Of course, in this instance, FIFA’s intervention would be welcome. How do you improve an underachieving team? Ban it from competing for two whole years? Get them to play better by not allowing them to play at all?
If, though, FIFA intervenes by expelling Nigeria from the house of football, it would have by extension simply carried out Jonathan’s senseless plan.
In that case, FIFA will have acted as absurd as the act it sought to change.