The Laws of 2014 FIFA World Cup

Today is the finals for the 2014 World Cup between Argentina and Germany.

Although I don’t follow sports much, you cannot but help notice the sea of multicoloured jerseys around you. So I did what any disinterested lawyer would do, and I started taking a look at the laws around the FIFA competition.

Of course FIFA has its own Laws of the Game, a 140 page document which details how the matches will be taking place. I’ll be carrying this handy document to the finals to look closely for any contraventions of the rules, though it’s unlikely any of my objections would be sustained.

In case any of my lawyer colleagues watching the game with me are so inclined to dispute my interpretation of the rules, I will also be accompanied by the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and the Notes on the Laws of the Game.

Fortunately the Notes stipulate that although the official languages that the Laws are published in include English, French, German and Spanish, if there are any divergence in the wording it is the English text that is authoritative. I can only imagine how much more complicated this match could get if we had to pull out Google Translate or international dictionaries.

Other controversies surrounding the World Cup focus on the host country, Brazil, who notably lost on July 8, 2014 to Germany.

In order to host the World Cup in Brazil, the country had to agree to a set of conditions. The Brazilian Congress enacted the Lei Geral da Copa (Law 12.663/2012) “World Cup Law.” This law has been challenged as violating the Brazilian constitution. Article 23 indicates that the state assumes civil liability for any losses or damages from FIFA or its representatives which may occur as a result of security incidents or accidents, unless there was an explicit act or omission by FIFA or those damaged.

However, Brazil’s constitution only allows the state to assume civil liability where its actions are in the furtherance of a public service, or through an agent acting on behalf of the state. FIFA does not qualify for either of these exemptions.

The World Cup Law is also being challenged for providing monetary bonuses to previous Brazilian team players, and for providing FIFA certain tax exemptions during the World Cup. Both actions would arguably benefit one group of people over another, which would violate the country’s equity provisions.

Poonam Majithia explains the response to this constitutional challenge on Law in Sport,

The AGU (Advocacia Geral da Uniao), the state’s legal representation, filed a defence to the complaint on 27 August 2013. In it, they defend the payments to players by arguing that it complies with Article 217 of the constitution, namely that such payments promote and encourage the development of sport. However, even though Gurgel recognises that such payments are allowed, he argues that the private nature of these payments means that there is no evidence to support the idea that they will benefit the development of sport in Brazil.

In relation to Article 23, the defence argues that the duty for the state to indemnify for damage or losses would only be unconstitutional if the source of the actions or omissions that caused such loss or damage was unknown as the constitution is intended to prevent the state from an uncertain burden. As the Law names FIFA as the party on behalf of which the state will indemnify, i.e it will only indemnify where FIFA would otherwise be liable, this eliminates the uncertainty. However, FIFA is still a private entity and the defence does not deal with the notion that the state should only indemnify for the performance of public services.

In relation to the costs and tax exemptions, the AGU insists that, as they were approved in Congress, they are constitutional and legally compliant. Moreover, when questioned, FIFA’s representatives also insisted that they spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that the Law’s provisions were constitutional. This may be the case, but the measures taken could not have expected this unprecedented backlash against the World Cup which has led to a level of scrutiny of the Law beyond what was previously envisaged.

If that wasn’t enough, Brazil’s World Cup Law has also been criticized for the relaxation of rules around volunteers and conflicts with domestic labour laws, restrictions on tourist visas conflicting with Brazilian visa policies, and controls in place for ticket sales violating state guarantees for gratuities and discounts.

The President of Brazil apparently had to use his veto on these issues. Too bad he couldn’t have used that in the game against Germany.

Patricie Barricelli lays out even further issues around the World Cup Law on the Lexis Nexis International Law Blog,

These contentious FIFA requirements include: mandating the sale of alcoholic beverages in stadiums (because of beverage sponsors); allowing sales (i.e. game ticket) conditioned on the acquisition of other products or services such as hotel packages and travel; suspension of the right of return legal guarantee for online sales as such may be applied to FIFA’s products; and permission for FIFA partners (i.e. sponsors) to offer products or services, such as credit cards, without necessarily meeting normal consumer regulatory requirements.

Mariana Marcaletti of the Washington Post describes some of the legal developments in the aftermath of the World Cup Law, including a Bill called the Budweiser law, removing alcohol bans. Marcaletti also notes that Mexican lawmakers are taking advantage of the distracted population to pass some contentious energy reform laws. Oil and gas though are hardly the greatest concern for most legal observers.

Racism is always the potential underside of rabid nationalism, and it’s no surprise that it has reared its head during the World Cup. Angelina Theodorou of Pew Research outlines the anti-hate campaigns that FIFA and Brazil have undertaken, as well as specific Brazilian laws which focus on hate speech. She points out that both the U.K. and Spain have specific legislation for chanting hate speech during a soccer match. Those hooligans.

The upside of all of this FIFA attention is the prospect for legislative reform in other countries. Ian Black of The Guardian talks about calls for reform and human rights movements mobilizing in advance of 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Whether a country can be transformed over 8 years to address abuses directed towards the 2.1 million non-Qataris who make more than 85% of the country’s total population is the real match I’d like to watch.

As I head over to the World Cup finals, I have already realized that although sparing references to the Laws of the Game will probably be tolerated, bringing up the Brazilian constitution, international hate speech laws, or labour laws in Qatar, will all probably earn me a red card from my colleagues.

Perhaps a discussion of which World Cup country is your law school most similar to will help the time go by instead.


  1. I think Omar has surpassed himself with this learned yet entertaining overview of the laws of sports as applied to Brazil and elsewhere on the occasion of the World Cup! brilliant!

    Those who would like to get seriously into this kind of question, and many public policy (if not expressly legal) questions about sports in Canadian society are bound to enjoy this year’s Couchiching Conference, whose topic is “More than a Game: The Politics and Potential of Sport“. The Conference is very stimulating and great fun (if you like to think and talk with diverse smart people in a summer-camp setting) whatever the topic (and there’s still time to register before the August 8 launch.)

    Perhaps the Program Committee should invite Omar to run a legal workshop out on the playing field…

  2. I concur with John. Excellent overview, Omar.

    Sheepishly, I have nothing substantive to contribute to the discussion. However, for those looking to explore the same topic from a slightly different angle, I offer this link at which you can watch comedian John Oliver lay out the issues and his revulsion at the implications of a private entity laying waste to national sovereignty and the rule of law…while explaining his willingness to look past it for, essentially, religious reasons.