Kuwait’s recent suspension from three of the most significant sporting bodies in the world highlighted the impact of government interference in the country’s sports.
In Kuwait, just as in many other countries in the region, sports and politics are tightly intertwined. However, this runs counter to the guidelines of many international sporting bodies. The issue at stake is Kuwait’s sports law, which the sporting associations argue does not allow for independent elections and governance within sports bodies.
Negotiations have been going on since the legislation was first drafted in 2008; Kuwait was suspended for about two years until 2012 when it was reinstated on the promise that the law would be amended. The concerns are also being echoed by other sports.
The only thing surprising about Kuwait’s recent suspension, from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), world football’s governing body FIFA and the International Handball Federation is that it was late in coming. Being suspended by the IOC and FIFA is a serious issue and there is the likelihood that other international organizations might follow suit.
However, Public Authority for Youth and Sports member and MP Abdullah Al Turaiji said, “The IOC doesn’t have the right to impose law amendments on Kuwait, so the committee should respect the sovereignty of Kuwait.”
Al Turaiji was quoted as saying, “We realized unfortunately that the Kuwait Olympic Committee is working with the IOC against Kuwait… We discovered that the file submitted to the IOC contains inaccurate information and the evidence used by the committee is extremely weak, so the complaint against Kuwait is baseless.”
Despite the bravo, Kuwait is reported to have sought legal advice from independent firms, according to one of the lawyers who has been asked to prepare amended legislation that would meet the Olympic Charter rules.
The UAE-based lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, says Kuwait’s government sports council appears to be prepared to compromise. He says sporting laws in other Gulf States comply with the Olympic Charter and Kuwait could simply replicate them and ne legislation could be drafted quickly.
Kuwait is not the only country whose government has or does intervene in sport more than the overriding bodies would like. In recent times, Indonesia, Nigeria and Cameroon have been suspended by FIFA, while the Palestinian Football Association has rallied some support in its bid to have Israel suspended for discrimination. South Africa was famously cut off from the IOC during the apartheid era, among others.
The issue with international federations and governing bodies like the IOC or FIFA is that they are desperate for sports autonomy. Perhaps it is their desire to conduct affairs away from the limelight and without scrutiny from governments. But that did not stop Swiss Attorney-General from bringing charges recently against FIFA and its head, or from governments accusing IOC of inefficiency in handling drug abuse among athletes.