Wednesday, June 02, 2004

FIFA bans Kenya [essay]

The international soccer federation FIFA has slapped an indefinite ban on Kenya's national teams. The country's government is accused of meddling in the affairs of the soccer federation, the KFF. In 2001, my adopted country of Guinea was also banned for about a year from FIFA for the same reason and the international body has threatened similiar sanctions on Brazil and Cameroon, though such a ban was never carried out on those two powerhouses. Ironically, Kenya had a African Nations Cup qualifying match scheduled this weekend... against Guinea.

The Kenyan Sports Minister dissolved the federation in March. The KFF has been at loggerheads with the government for several months over allegations of financial mismanagement, according to the BBC.

Now this is tricky. I understand FIFA's objective of keeping politics and sports separated (at least as much as possible). No one wants a repeat of what happened to the Ivory Coast team who were detained by the military junta for a few days following a surprising early exit from the 2000 African Nations Cup. Or worse, no one wants what happened to soccer players in Saddam's Iraq when they failed to win important matches. Football is very political in many countries. Presidents' popularity can rise and fall with the fortunes of the national team: ask Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade.

One the other hand, such a hardline almost would seem to give impunity to soccer federations. They can do whatever they want and the government can't legally crack down on them for fear of incurring FIFA's wrath. The federations in Kenya, Guinea and Brazil have all been accused of corruption or financial mismanagement. Now, if any other business commits corruption, we would laud the government for cracking down. But in soccer, it's unacceptable?

FIFA, whose self-serving motto is "for the good of the game," really needs to offer advice or guidelines to governments as to what should be done if a soccer federation is getting out of control.

But this is unlikely since FIFA itself is widely accused of... corruption and financial mismanagement.

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