By Nickolas Rogic – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
FIFA and the IOC have taken reactionary measures against the Kuwaiti Football Association (KFA) and the Kuwaiti Olympic Association (KOC), respectively. Both organizations have been suspended from international participation. Both actions were undertaken as a response to the Kuwaiti government implementing a new “Sports Law” that, as the world governing bodies state, interfere with the autonomy of the KFA and the KOC. Prohibitions against government interference in a nation’s sporting agencies are included in the Olympic Charter. An observer stated that, if the sports law is not amended, the KFA and the KOC would, in effect, be rendered unable to comply with crucial elements of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Sporting organizations within a country are required to be autonomous from the government. The principle of autonomy when it comes to sporting agencies can trace its way back to the 1894 when Pierre de Coubertin, widely regarded to be the father of the IOC, said that the state would be an unwelcome intruder in what he saw as the pure world of sport, a world where people celebrated their humanity through athletics, away from the “dangerous and imprecise figure” of the state. The principle of autonomy took on new life after World War II, when the IOC and Western nations were loath to see the interference of Communist governments into their sporting organizations. It should be added that the threat of doping figured prominently in the reluctance of the IOC to endorse direct state involvement in sport.
It should also be noted that this is not the first time that the Kuwaiti’s have been suspended from participating in international sport. The Kuwaiti Olympic Committee had been suspended in 2010 but the suspension was lifted in 2012 when Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah pledged autonomy for the Committee. In response to the question of why the ruler of the small Gulf state would “go back” on his earlier promise, Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, himself a Kuwaiti who heads the global association of national Olympic committees, stated that it was likely due to internal politics, as “the sports minister has lost an election to the president of shooting”.
The fact that the organization of sport can be so tenuous and arbitrary in a country gives credence to the reason that sports authorities require autonomy. Indeed, it is speculated that for many countries without a long history of formal civil society, the danger is that sports organizations may serve as at the personal whim of members of government.
The principle of autonomy of sport then can be seen as a lynchpin of the broader principle against corruption.
Against the backdrop of FIFA’s recent troubles, it may be asked to what extent they have the moral right to levy suspensions against nations for failing to comply with rules. Some have called for an overhaul of the international sporting legal regime in order to combat corruption that is most prevalent in developing countries. Have we drifted too far from de Coubertin’s philosophy of international sport? The case of Kuwait can be seen as a microcosm of the principles under pressure all over the international sporting world.