On 13 June 2018, with 134 of the 200 votes cast, the three countries of the so-called “United Bid”, Canada, Mexico and the U.S., were designated by the Congress of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) as hosts of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. This is a historical decision, not only for the three selected countries, but also because it is the first time that the host country of one of the most prestigious international soccer competitions has been designated by a vote of all the members of the governing body of soccer worldwide, i.e. by all 211 national member associations of FIFA.
The new process of selection and nomination of the host country was introduced by FIFA after the FIFA Executive Committee’s decision in December 2010 to appoint Russia and Qatar as hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, led to severe criticism, debate and investigations. The subsequent change from a secret vote by a small group of officials to a democratic and transparent voting process by the Congress has been widely welcomed. Indeed it shows an openness by FIFA to amend and improve its rules and decision-making processes.
Interestingly, FIFA has also issued new rules concerning how host countries should navigate human rights. Again, in reaction to concerns triggered by the Russia and the Qatar World Cups, FIFA issued a new Human Rights Policy in May 2017 which articulated FIFA’s statutory human rights commitment and outlined FIFA’s approach to its implementation in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Such implementation in Canada, Mexico and the United States will undoubtedly be closely monitored by the Human Rights Watch organization, which has already advised FIFA in connection with World Cup bidding requirements.
Despite these recent positive developments, one should consider whether other rules governing international soccer are in need of critical analysis and substantive revision. In this regard, a top priority could be the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (“RSTP”), which were issued in 2001 and, remarkably, are probably the only legal instrument existing in the world of sport that regulates, on a worldwide level, basically all issues relating to the international transfer of athletes within a particular sport. The RSTP apply as soon as a player is transferred from one country to another. Over the past 17 years, millions of players have been registered and/or transferred under the RSTP and thousands of disputes have arisen and have been dealt with, in large part by FIFA judicial organs and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in respect of the RSTP.
However, recent developments show that the RSTP need to be reconsidered in order to address certain highly problematic issues that have emerged in international soccer. For instance, recent transfers have triggered huge fees paid to certain agents. Another recent area of concern is the tendency of some larger clubs to place a very high number of players under contract and then temporarily loan such players to other clubs. Finally, the increasing number of minor players attempting to move to other countries and register with a foreign club in the hopes of making a fortune, triggers concerns surrounding fundamental issues such as education and child abuse.
It will be interesting to observe how FIFA will work with all relevant stakeholders (soccer players, national member associations, clubs, leagues, etc.) to create a more modern and fair version of the RSTP. Such work is never easy, given often-conflicting stakeholder interests. Nevertheless, one maintains hope that a new, better version of the RSTP will soon emerge. For the good of the game.