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Opinion - What if both sides are right, but the impasse persists?

2020-10-15  Staff Reporter

Opinion - What if both sides are right, but the impasse persists?

We are informed that the well documented standoff between the Namibia Football Association (NFA) and the Namibia Premier League (NPL) has its origin in the latter’s disregard of the Fifa Normalisation Committee’s directive not to relegate the three teams that ended at the foot of the country’s topflight football league for the 2018/19 season. 
For its seemingly stubborn attitude, the NPL was compensated with a suspension from the NFA early in the year and subsequently expelled from Namibia’s “association football” in July 2020. 

Fast forward to September 2020, instead of accepting or declining an application by the NPL for registration as a sports body in terms of section 26 of the Namibian Sports Act 2003 (Act No. 
12 of 2003) (the Act), the Namibian Sports Commission (NSC) on the advice of the Sport, Youth and National Service Minister appointed a Committee of Eminent Persons (the Committee), with a 30-day term to mediate the impasse in Namibian football. It is this appointment by the NSC that seems to have added another layer to an already deeply polarised set-up, with very few or none seen occupying the middle ground. 

Just as that month was concluding, Fifa’s Chief Member Associations Officer Veron Mosengo-Omba reminded all and sundry of Article 19 of the Fifa Statutes which requires members’ independence and limits influence from third parties. “Each member association shall manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties.” (my emphasis) 

That Article 19 is a carbon copy of Article 17 of the NFA Statutes, with a corresponding implication to the NFA members. There are no definitions provided for “undue influence” and “third parties” in this context. What is however unequivocal from Mosengo-Omba’s missive is that any violation of Article 19 of the Fifa Statutes shall be visited with sanctions from the global football governing body. 
So, when exactly would there be a violation of Article 19? It follows that there must be undue influence from a third party in how the NFA manages its affairs. What are NFA affairs? In my view, it would be anything related to “association football” in Namibia.

Put differently, any football under the auspices of the NFA, with an upward trace to Fifa. That would mean that amongst others there should be no influence in how the NFA and/or its members elect their leadership or how the NFA relates to its members or how the NFA supervises or controls “association football”. Mosengo-Omba’s position was supported by his Secretary General Fatma Samoura who in a letter dated 6 October 2020, stressed that “the NFA shall control and supervise all forms of football at the national level and ensure that there only be one top-tier national league on [in] the territory of Namibia”. 

It might be safe to assume that there is no dispute with regards to the mandate of the NFA. Suffice to add that the NFA is a voluntary association which members join in terms of its stated rules, regulations and obligations of members; and therefore its jurisdiction is limited to its membership.  
Would the appointment of the Committee by the NSC amount to undue influence by the NSC in the affairs of the NFA? Is the NSC a third party in relation to the NFA? The latter question shall be expanded upon in the fullness of time. 
It is the initial question that requires answering at this instance. Sections 2 and 3 of the Act establishes the NSC and provides for its powers respectively. Some of the powers of the NSC includes “to ensure the proper administration of national sports bodies and national umbrella sports bodies; to authorize national and international sports activities or events of any individual sportsperson, national sports body or national umbrella sports body; to coordinate with sports clubs, national sports bodies, national umbrella sports bodies and any other bodies to ensure that sports facilities are fully utilized”. 

Section 8 of the Act impowers the NSC to appoint such Committees as it deems necessary, with such mandate as determined by the NSC. 
It would therefore appear that the Committee announced on 3 September 2020 was in line with the provisions of the Act, in view of the NSC’s overall mandate “to coordinate, control, develop and foster sports activities” in Namibia; and football is one such sport activity. Therefore, it would be hard to show that intervention by the NSC would amount to “undue influence in the affairs of the NFA”. 

It is common cause that the NFA is registered as a sports body in terms of section 26 of the Act and as such should have satisfied the requirement of section 26 (2) (a) in that its “constitution and rules and any applicable international instrument that have been submitted are true copies and are not inconsistent with this Act”. This would mean that the NFA would not have any problem in complying with the provisions of the Act. Put otherwise, the NFA owes a dual duty of the compliance to the NSC and to Fifa. 

The primary concern of this presentation is not to pass judgment either way, but rather the following question. What if Fifa is right in terms of its Statutes and the position as communicated by its top officials on the one end, and the NSC is also correct in setting up the Committee to mediate the impasse in Namibian football on the other? How does that get us any closer to resolving the present standoff? 
So, both ends could be right in their own ways but still the impasse may persist. Being right is not the main consideration and will not be celebrated. 

It is finding a lasting solution to the fall-out that is premium. It must be accepted that none of the sides in the football divide can wish the other away or simply disregard the other’s existence. 
It is therefore no longer about which end is right but rather about finding the best settlement for  Namibian football. 
It is an unfortunate Namibian situation for which a sustainable Namibian solution is required. The victory cannot be absolute and exclusive to any side, be it the NFA or the NPL, much less Fifa or the NSC. 

2020-10-15  Staff Reporter

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