FIFA and the Olympics

As everyone in Canada will know, the Canadian women’s soccer team lost to the US team in a way that has excited some comment, first of all by a couple of star members of the Canadian team who were highly critical of a decision made by the Norwegian referee. FIFA — Fédération Internationale de Football Association — the governing body of football let it be known that it will examine the players’ comments with an eye to possible suspensions. Today, however, we learn that no actions will be taken by FIFA until after the game in which Canada competes with France for the bronze medal, enabling Canada to play with a full complement.

I’m not much of a sports fan. But I can be somewhat roused by appeals to patriotism and even more, thankfully, by the scent of a legal angle to things. Which got me wondering first of all what FIFA had to do with anything there at the Olympics and then what the rule was that the Canadian players might have broken, this last question fractioning into the predictable lawyer tracks, such due process, appeals, concerns about vagueness, jurisdiction and the like. I don’t have the time or expertise to go down most of those roads, though I’d be happy to learn what lies there if Slaw readers happen to know. But I thought I’d take a stab at answering the very basic questions.

Quite sensibly, the International Olympic Committee relies on the various international organizations that govern particular sports to organize the competitions in those sports at an Olympic Games. As the current IOC Factsheet on Roles and Responsibilities puts it:

The [International Federations] are essential to the success of the Olympic Games because it is the IFs that run their respective sports during the Games. Indeed, it is the IFs that set the rules for their sports and who are responsible for the technical control and direction of their sports.

For its part, FIFA accepts the responsibility and agrees to do the job “in compliance with the provisions of the regulations applicable to these tournaments and the Olympic Charter.”

So it’s a delegated power and incorporation by reference of FIFA’s rules, within the “constitutional” structure of the IOC rules, that govern the conduct of the Canadian women’s Olympic soccer team.

What’s not quite so easy to find, with any certainty at least, is the FIFA rule that the players’ comments may have broken. Curiously (to a lawyer) not one of the news reports seems to have identified the rule. I’m guessing that whatever it is, it would be in the FIFA Disciplinary Code [PDF]. (From what I can tell the Laws of the Game apply only to events during a match.) If so, Article 57 could be the provision at issue:

57 Offensive behaviour and fair play
Anyone who insults someone in any way, especially by using offensive gestures or language, or who violates the principles of fair play or whose behaviour is unsporting in any other way may be subject to sanctions in accordance with art. 10 ff.

It may be that certain postgame comments “insulted” the referee — though whether the referee is “anyone” is unclear to me; but more likely, perhaps, would be a charge that the players’ “behaviour [was] unsporting in [some] way . . . .”

If so, Article 11, dealing with “Sanctions applicable to natural persons,” provides for a variety of penalties, among which are “match suspension.”

And there I had better leave it, because rules in and of sports is a huge topic and I’m very much one of the blind men describing an elephant by the furry tip of its tail. Feel free, as always, to weigh in, though, and tell me whether I’m anywhere near the legal facts of the matter as it concerns our women’s team.


  1. Simon, see rule 46B: “dissent by word or action;”

    The fact the criticism came post-match, which I believe is (approx.) defined as after time of the final whistle but before the players leave the pitch, makes most of the on-field disciplinary rules still applicable. The ref can no longer book a player with another caution (yellow/red card), but the committee is still in its right to apply further discipline.

    On the other side of things, I don’t recall any cautions issued to the players in question during the game. Dissent is considered a minor infraction, and players would have received a verbal warning prior to a formal booking in any event. Add it all up, and it’s tough to see a suspension… Could explain why nothing further is coming down.