Can you imagine a sports world in which the number of foreigners on a team is limited? Sports like American football would still get on fine because nearly all of its professional players are US citizens but leagues like the NHL and MLB who have many foreign players would be decimated. This is exactly the kind of world that Sepp Blatter, the controversial president of FIFA, soccer’s governing body is trying to create. Blatter is no stranger to controversy; he suggested in 2004 that women’s soccer would get more followers if the women “wore tighter shorts.” Corruption accusations stemming from Blatter’s presidential election have also popped up in recent years.
Blatter has bent the rules in the past, especially when he succeeded in banning international soccer games from being played at an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level. This ludicrous ban was protested by many South American countries especially Bolivia who’s capital La Paz is 3600 meters above sea level. The rule was suspended by FIFA in 2008. The altitude ban suspension was seen as a major setback for him personally. With that in mind Blatter then turned his thoughts toward a foreign player restriction. Blatter’s new brainchild is called the “6+5” rule. This rule stipulates that of a team’s 11 starters, only 5 can come from a foreign country. For example, a team in the English Premier League must have 6 English starters for every game.
Blatter has attempted to implement the rule since 2007 with little success. Blatter’s reasoning behind the law is that he feels that the influx of foreign players, especially in European soccer is hindering the European nation’s national teams. When discussing the law Blatter constantly refers to the English Premier League, stating that the EPL’s obsession with money was the reason behind the English national team failing to qualify for the European Championships in 2008.
The proposed rule change has largely been scoffed at by many in the soccer world including myself. Critics argue that Blatter is jealous that English Premier League is the most watched league in the world and that its teams are performing brilliantly in European club competitions. Blatter has attacked the “big 4” teams in England, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal for having too many foreign players in their squads but in 2008, Manchester United won the English, European and World championships with a balanced number of English and foreign players in their squad. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, an Englishman scored the winning goal in the World Club Championship. Blatter blames the influx of foreign players in the English league for England’s failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships but Spain, the country that won the 2008 Euro’s have as many foreign players in the league as England.
The criticism of the 6+5 rule doesn’t only come from avid soccer fans like myself. For one, the 6+5 rule breaks European Union employment laws. In the early 1990’s European club competitions had a rule where only 3 foreign players were allowed in a team’s starting 11 but in 1995, the European Court of Justice, threw out the law. In the past few weeks the 6+5 rule has been in the spotlight again but this time it was not Sepp Blatter but Richard Scudamore the chief executive of the English Premier League who has spoken out against the rule. Instead of remarking that the rule was against European law or impractical, Scudamore chose to call out Blatter on his xenophobic views. Scudamore stated “I do struggle where nationalism, jingoism and patriotism stops and where actually some sort of xenophobic rhetoric takes over.” Scudamore went further and openly admitted that there is a significant amount of xenophobia and nationalism in world soccer. He stated, “And there is a certain amount of that in the football world when I keep getting told that ‘how can English football be English football when there are not enough English players in a particular team?’
It’s great to finally see a person of influence in the soccer world openly admitting that there is a problem with xenophobia. Too often we see FIFA officials ignoring the xenophobia and even promoting xenophobia (the 6+5 rule). FIFA is very public in their criticism of racism in soccer but xenophobia is also a form of racism. If FIFA wants to seen as a credible organization they must get rid of corrupt officials like Sepp Blatter and drop the xenophobic rhetoric coming out of FIFA official’s mouths. Doing this will not only get FIFA out of the doghouse but will improve soccer worldwide.