Is FIFA more involved in politics than it likes to admit?

Are claims that it "promotes friendly relations between its members for humanitarian objectives" true?

By JEREMY LAST
April 18, 2006 09:19
3 minute read.
Is FIFA more involved in politics than it likes to admit?

Fifa 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Last week, in a somewhat controversial move which escaped the attention of much of the international media, Germany's deputy interior minister, August Hanning, traveled to Teheran to hold talks with senior Iranian officials. During the discussions, the Iranians apparently raised their concerns about possible threats to the Iranian national team during the upcoming soccer World Cup, to be hosted by Germany this summer. The Iranian government apparently expressed worried about the possibility of "violent protests" at Iran's games by opposition groups, who reportedly have hundreds of members in Germany. The Germans were sympathetic to Iran's concerns and Hanning gave the Iranians an assurance that Germany will cooperate fully with the Islamic regime over any possible threats. "When the Iranians fear a threat, they will tell us their reasons. Then our evaluation will be communicated back to Teheran," Hanning was quoted by the Associated Press as saying to the very German sounding Tagesspiegel newspaper. Of course, this is all a little bizarre. It is questionable whether the Iranians should have any qualms at all about any such protests, considering President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's consistently crazy comments calling for the total destruction of the State of Israel and denying the Holocaust, as well as the continuing nuclear development. Actually, maybe we should start a letter writing campaign calling for FIFA, soccer's world governing body, to ban Iran from the World Cup. But hold your horses. Put down your pens. The last people you should expect any support from would be FIFA. Because, despite Iran's insane leaders, FIFA consistently stresses that it does not get involved in politics and the Iranian soccer team is completely welcome at Germany 2006. In a statement released on Tuesday last week, FIFA president Sepp Blatter claimed that: "In today's world, which is disrupted by long-lasting disputes and violence, football is one of the very few universal tools mankind can use... to symbolize what unites our planet over what divides it. FIFA's role is not to reprimand, but to help create bonds." Lovely words. But this press release, which contains the phrase "FIFA, a non-political organization", was released to announce that the organization will be paying for the "rehabilitation" of the national stadium in Gaza, which had been damaged by IDF artillery fire a week and a half earlier. FIFA would love you to believe that the reason they had decided to pay for the refurbishments was to "promote friendly relations between its members and in society for humanitarian objectives". However, looking at the background of what led to this decision, it seems that FIFA is acting in anything but a non-political manner. First and foremost, before they decided to pay for the stadium in Gaza, Jerome Champagne, the elegantly titled Delegate to FIFA's President for Special Affairs, emailed the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland demanding an explanation as to why the stadium was bombed. The ambassador, Aviv Shiron, told Champagne that the stadium was being used as a launching pad for Kassam rockets. But then Champagne was sent a Reuters report quoting an IDF spokesman who said the stadium was bombed "to send message" to the Palestinians, in response to the constant Kassam bombardment. This irked the Frenchman somewhat, as he already felt sorry for the poor Palestinians who have not been able to start their own local soccer league due to "checkpoints". Despite not getting involved in politics, Champagne had managed to complain to an Israeli government representative about the actions of the Israeli army, and based his response on a news report. Champagne told The Jerusalem Post that he would be discussing the matter with Blatter and was considering taking "action". This "action" appears to be the decision to fund the stadium's repair. How FIFA can claim that its role is "not to reprimand" is anyone's guess. If Champagne had been satisfied that the Israeli strikes on the stadium were justified, would FIFA still have paid for the stadium to be fixed? Maybe it is time for FIFA to admit that they are involved in politics, at least when it comes to pointing out what they see as the wrongdoings of Israel and its army, despite their lack of military expertise or exact information. jeremylast@yahoo.com

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