By Robert J. Romano, JD, LLM, Senior Writer, and Devin Morgan, MS in Sport Management Candidate, St. John’s University
Initially, FIFA, soccer’s global governing body responsible for the organization and promotion of international soccer tournaments including the men’s and women’s World Cup events, was only going to forbid Russia from hosting any international soccer games during the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.
Measures increased to that of having the Russian team, under the name, Football Union of Russia, play all of its qualifying matches in neutral countries without spectators or with the Russian anthem being performed. Though strengthened somewhat, these sanctions were criticized by many as a mere slap on the wrist for a country that just launched an unprovoked military invasion upon its neighbor, Ukraine.
But after the International Olympic Committee and UEFA weighed in, together with a number of nations including Sweden, Poland, and the Czech Republic, each of whom avowed that they would not play Russia in the upcoming World Cup qualifying playoffs, FIFA finally gave Russia a red card by banning it from international competitions with its official statement reading:
“FIFA and UEFA have decided that all Russian Teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice.”
The ramifications being that the Russian men’s team will not play in any World Cup play-off matches next month and the women’s team will be been banned from this summer’s Euro 2022 competition.
But does FIFA, together with UEFA, have the power to ban a country’s soccer teams from competing in some of the biggest and most lucrative international soccer tournaments for non-sporting actions of its government and government officials?
Prohibiting a country from competing on political grounds is not an unprecedented move by FIFA. In fact, in 1970 it barred Rhodesia over that country’s white supremacy laws and in 1974, South Africa for its policy of apartheid. In 1992, FIFA forbid Yugoslavia from playing in the 1994 World Cup because of its continuing war and the human rights violations and war crimes associated with such.
Interestingly, FIFA statutes do not explicitly grant it the power to punish soccer federations for wars in which they bear no responsibility and in fact, state that “FIFA remains neutral in matters of politics and religion.” However, FIFA’s Article 16 grants the FIFA Council the authority to “temporarily suspend with immediate effect a member association that seriously violates its obligations,” while Article 3, states that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.” Therefore, it is a reasonable position that FIFA’s sanctioning of the Russian teams and banning them from competition falls in line with its commitment to ‘promoting human rights, such as freedom and peace.’
The Football Union of Russia (FUR), however, feeling victimized by FIFA’s decision, stated, “… in accordance with international sports law and as part of a single lawsuit against two organizations, the FUR will demand to restore the men’s and women’s national teams of Russia in all types of football in the tournaments in which they took part (including the qualifying round of the World Cup in Qatar), as well as to compensate for the damage if its availability is established.” It continued, asserting “In order to ensure the possibility of participation of Russian teams in the next scheduled matches, the RFU will insist on an accelerated order of consideration of the case. . . . In addition, the decision to remove the national team from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup was made under pressure from direct rivals in the play-offs, which violated the sports principle and rules of fair play.”
As expected, on March 8, 2022, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) acknowledged “that FUR has officially registered an appeal of its suspension with the CAS, naming FIFA, UEFA, the Polish Football Association, the Swedish Football Association, the Czech Football Association, the Football Association of Montenegro, and the Malta Football Association as respondents.”
The question then becomes, does FIFA have enough authority under its current rules for a Court of Arbitration for Sport to uphold FIFA’s suspension of FUR? The only precedent close to the current circumstances involves an arbitration decision from 2018, wherein the Palestinian soccer federation challenged FIFA on its refusal to act regarding a dispute it had with the Israeli federation. By the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissing this appeal, finding that it was within FIFA’s discretion to make a decision based upon ‘moral judgement’, it “essentially acknowledged that FIFA’s rules give it broad leeway to pick and choose which issues to tackle and which to ignore.”
Therefore, if the standard is that of ‘moral judgment’, the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision in this matter is an easy one; invoke FIFA’s Article 3: ‘FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights’ and deny Football Union of Russia’s appeal of its suspension.By doing so, the Court will show that it is standing up to protect the integrity of international sport in the same way Ukraine is standing up to protect its sovereignty against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
 FIFA General Provision 4.1.
 FIFA General Provision 16.1.
 FIFA General Provision 3.
 Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) FIFA FIFA Appeal Committee (FIFA AC) FIFA Disciplinary Committee (FIFA DC) Football Palestine Palestine FA