Sports

The World Cup and its complex regulation – Analysis

FIFA instituted disciplinary proceedings against Mexico for homophobic chants by the country’s fans – Reproduction / Twitter (@FIFAWorldCup)

World Cup. Every four years (in this specific case, four and a half years), the world directs its attention to the main men’s soccer competition between national teams, one of the main events in world sport, if not the main one.

While the absolute majority of the public turn their eyes to the lawns of the imposing stadiums of Qatar, the professionals involved in the event turn to the norms that govern the competition. In this sense, the main “bedside book” is the World Cup Regulations, prepared by FIFA.

It is this regulation that defines, for example, the start and end dates of the event: November 20th and December 18th. By the way, it is interesting to note that this specific point of the regulation (the second paragraph of Article 1.3) was subject to an amendment approved by FIFA a few months earlier, in August 2022; in the original version, the rule provided for the start of the tournament on November 21, 2022.

But, of course, this rule goes far beyond that. Its extensive scope is well illustrated by article 1.4: it regulates the rights, duties and responsibilities of all national football federations (in the case of Brazil, the CBF) participating in the World Cup. Its rules, as well as all directives, decisions, directives and circulars issued by FIFA, are binding on all parties involved in the participation, preparation and organization of the competition. There is no doubt, therefore, of its importance for the event, without prejudice to the necessary observance of other FIFA regulations applicable to each specific case.

With regard to other applicable regulations, it is worth mentioning FIFA’s Disciplinary Code, which identifies conduct subject to disciplinary sanctions and the respective sanctions. Disciplinary infractions include not only actions committed by players on the field, but also conduct outside the four lines attributable to a particular selection. Already in the first days of the World Cup, it was possible to observe at least two examples in this regard, with FIFA initiating disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Ecuador and Mexico by homophobic chants from the respective fans during the matches🇧🇷

According to the report, disciplinary proceedings were initiated based on article 13 of the Disciplinary Code, which deals specifically with discrimination. The norm has a very broad scope, providing for the application of sanctions to “any person who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or a group of people through disrespectful, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions in relation to race, skin color, ethnicity, national or social origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, economic capacity, place of birth or any other aspect”. Furthermore, it also stipulates that, when the prohibited conduct is practiced by supporters of a club or national team, this is subject to a fine of at least CHF 20,000; in case of recurrence, the penalty may be increased.

Going back to the World Cup Regulations, it is possible to find provisions relating to another topic that has caused controversy at the beginning of the World Cup: the captains’ belts.

Article 30.2 provides that the banners are provided by FIFA itself and must be used by the participating teams, excluding similar items. Thus, based on information published in the specialized media, FIFA’s apparent understanding would be that the use of different belts by the respective captains, as some teams intended, would imply non-compliance with the rules of the competitionwhich may give rise to sanctions in the form of the Disciplinary Code (whose article 11 reiterates that players and national teams must respect all FIFA regulations).

However, it is worth considering that FIFA’s own statute (normative that, in theory, supersedes all other regulations) provides that it “is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and must make efforts to promote the protection of these rights ”. Therefore, considering the content of the messages that the captains intended to display on their armbands, absolutely consistent with this principle of protection of human rights, the legal discussion on their eventual use would not end with the mere application of the World Cup Regulations.

Finally, in addition to various disciplinary and operational aspects of the sports competition itself (for example, the number of participants, the format of the dispute, the limit on the number of players entered per selection, the deadline for eventual cuts of injured athletes after the call…), it is worth noting that the World Cup Regulations also include rules on complementary issues, but of obvious importance for the event in commercial and media terms.

Article 44 ratifies FIFA as the original owner of all commercial rights related to the event, referring to the Media and Marketing Regulation as the regulation that governs this point in more detail and the aspects concerning the relationship with the press. In this sense, article 44 of the World Cup regulations itself establishes obligations for participants to respond to the press, such as the organization of dedicated facilities at the training venue and compulsory participation in certain activities (for example, press conferences held on the eve of matches).

Finally, given the relevance and magnitude of the World Cup, it is not surprising that its regulations are complex and cover so many different topics. Inside and outside the four lines, all competition participants, as well as third parties directly involved with it (including organizers, sponsors, press…) must observe the rules that compete with them. And all this without prejudice to the necessary compliance with the laws in force in the host country.

Pedro Mendonça has been a sports lawyer since 2010, with extensive experience in advising various sports entities, such as committees, confederations and clubs, as well as athletes, and writes bimonthly in the Sport Machine

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