Football’s fundamental problem: the lack of proper checks and balances




By Tony Attwood

Anyone who studies any aspect of being a citizen in one of the western democratic countries learns about the division of authority.  At its simplest, it comes down to this:

The Legislature makes laws. The Executive puts those laws into effect and plans policy.

There is then also a third level: the Judiciary which administers justice by interpreting the law when its meaning is in dispute,

Now it is often argued that in the United Kingdom (the country in which I live) there is not much of a division between the legislature and the executive, but I think everyone agrees we have an independent legal system that does not bend the laws to meet new situations.  Changing the law is the remit of the elected government.

And in football?

Technically there are two bodies.  At the top level there is the Football Association, and then secondly there are the professional leagues.   They are separated, and when there is a dispute they can argue matters out with each other – which is a form of checks and balances.  The FA draws up the rule books, the football clubs operate by that rule book.

Except … in football above all this we have Fifa and Uefa, for whom there are no checks and balances.  They can do what they like as we have seen for example, with regard to the world cup.  Fifa decides where and when the world cup is, and no one else can do anything other than obey their diktats.  Uefa can decide where European matches are held as with the Champions League final or the Euros finals, and there is no one able to hold them to account when those matches go wrong (as with the Champions League final in Paris, or the Euro final at Wembley or indeed the Champions League this year at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium).

So at that level, there are no checks and balances.  And that is before we consider the position of Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi who is chairman of beIN Media Group, chairman of Qatar Sports Investments, president of Paris Saint-Germain, chief executive officer of Paris Saint-Germain, a senior member of the organizing committee for the Fifa Club World Cup, and chairman of the European Club Association.  Where are the checks and balances there?

Now it could be argued, if one was feeling argumentative, that there is a level of checks and balances because ultimately there is the Court of Arbitration in Sport.  But they can only hear cases that are referred to them by participatory bodies, and with the mass of power held by Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi this gets more and more unlikely.

What’s more, if it does happen, it is a fairly easy matter for the whole process to be slowed down so much that in the end cases are not brought before the court in time and so are ruled out, not because the case has not merit but because it is “out of time” – as was the case against Manchester City 

Uefa is in fact government and executive and as such it is unlikely to make a meaningful challenge against Manchester City or PSG when on the one hand they are generating so much income that Uefa relies on and on the other hand, the boss of PSG is also so highly involved in state and international football which Uefa regulates.  

What the Super League did was to challenge this monopoly of power by setting up a league that was outside the rule of Uefa and Fifa.   That of course scared the hell out of Uefa and Fifa, and they successfully supported (or some have suggested implemented) an uprising of fans against super league, using the national media as a voice box.

What is clearly needed is a separation of clubs, competition organizers and the legal bodies overseeing disputes with no one engaged at one level also being involved at another.

But as a result of the crazy situation at the moment, when the Premier League felt that Manchester City were cheating in terms of the league’s own financial rules, the clubs felt they had had enough of the lunacy of Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi having a finger in every pie, so they decided to investigate the matter themselves.  This now puts all the power back in the hands of a single body.  That is probably better than letting any organisation run by Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi get involved, but it is not ideal.  I doubt that I would feel happy about such an investigation if the league was investigating Arsenal.

Besides, what happens if Manchester City lose their case?   Do they go to Uefa?  Or CAS?  Or do they set up their own European league?  They could do – they have the money because the rest of football has let them take all the investments they want.

This is far from being a stable situation.

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