Soccer and politics shouldn’t mix. At least, that’s according to the laws of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body. Ghana and Nigeria could learn the hard way what happens when those rules are broken.
Both African soccer powers face bans from international competitions by FIFA following recent incidents of government interference in soccer affairs. The Ghanaian government recently disbanded the GFA, its national soccer governing body, following a damning investigation which revealed a web of corruption. Despite the investigation’s grim findings, FIFA insists that disbanding the GFA amounts to outside interference in the sport. To avoid a ban, the Ghanaian government has pledged to stop the dissolution of the GFA.
In Nigeria, the situation is more grave. The controversy stems from a protracted leadership tussle following presidential elections for the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) back in 2014. Local courts ruled against current president Amaju Pinnick and in favor of his challenger, Chris Giwa, who is ostensibly backed by the national minister of sports. On that basis, Giwa has taken over the NFF. But FIFA insists Pinnick is the duly elected president, and will not recognize Giwa.
The impasse has already proven costly. Nigeria’s struggling local league has been suspended for nearly a month. Until a permanent resolution is agreed, Nigeria’s national soccer teams also risk missing out on international tournaments, most notably next year’s African Cup of Nations—the continent’s flagship soccer tournament. Today, Nigeria’s presidency claimed it will recognize Pinnick and abide by the NFF’s treaty obligations to FIFA. The global soccer body is yet to respond.
After making the headlines for all the right reasons at the most recent World Cup, a farcical battle over the leadership of soccer in Nigeria could undo the progress made at the tournament in Russia. While Nigeria might yet avoid a ban, there’s a worrying historical precedent. Nigeria was banned only days after the 2014 World Cup ended for sacking its top soccer officials and arresting the governing committee’s president. The ban was lifted after the committee was restored.