On the face of it, UEFA is a cartel running a monopoly in European football. The Union of European Football Associations governs the beautiful game on the continent, taking responsibility for the European Championships, Champions League, Europa League and other competitions.
FIFA, meanwhile, is the governing agency of football on a global scale. It has more than 200 member nations from around the world, and is tasked with running tournaments like the World Cup while ensuring that the rules of football, in conjunction with IFAB, are upheld and updated as necessary.
These two organisations are all-powerful and all-conquering, although it was interesting that the proposed European Super League, a breakaway competition that would have seen some of the biggest clubs in football effectively leave UEFA in the dirt, would have cracked the façade that what these governing bodies says ultimately goes.
Even then, UEFA would have the power to reject their member clubs from leaving thanks to a quirk of EU law. So, for the time being at least, UEFA and FIFA hold all the aces when it comes to governing football. But, what if their member clubs and/or countries wanted to resign? Could they? And, what would be the incentive for doing so?
Can a Club or Country Resign from UEFA?
In the wake of Luis Rubiales scandal, which saw the head of the Spanish Football Federation plant a non-consensual kiss on player, Jenni Hermoso, during their World Cup winning celebrations, officials in Spain asked UEFA to suspend them indefinitely. It was an act designed to force Rubiales to quit his position, but came with the interesting side-effect that – if granted – the Spanish clubs, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, would have been banished from the Champions League.
You can see a club side would be reluctant to give up their UEFA membership; they would lose the chance to play in the Champions League, which remains as the most prestigious and lucrative competition in club football anywhere on the planet. It wouldn’t happen anyway – as discussed, a decree from the European Court of Justice allows UEFA to block their members from resigning; thus enabling them to retain their monopoly.
However, at the international level, it seems as though member nations can quit UEFA – it’s just that nobody has chosen to yet. The likes of Israel and Kazakhstan have joined UEFA from the Asian Football Confederation, but no countries have gone the other way – although Russia has threatened to make such a move if their clubs continue to be sanctioned by the governing body over the conflict happening in Ukraine.
If Russia saw their threat through, they would be barred from competing in the European Championships, while their club teams would not be allowed to compete in the Champions League and co. The question remains: what is the incentive to quit UEFA without a better option available?
Can a Country Resign from FIFA?
Given how corrupt FIFA is – that’s fact, not opinion – it’s a wonder that no country has resigned their membership. The reason they haven’t is simple: they wouldn’t be allowed to play in the World Cup – the pinnacle of the beautiful game. That reveals how deep FIFA’s power runs.
That is not to say there hasn’t been dissenters over the years. In 2021, it’s thought that as many as 15 different countries had planned to resign their FIFA membership over plans the authority had of making the World Cup a biennial, rather than quadrennial, tournament.
So radical were those plans that even UEFA threatened to boycott the event, while a stack of countries – most prominently the Nordic nations – raised the possibility of leaving FIFA altogether. Then the organisation opened an almighty can of worms by handing the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – the backlash from several of its member countries was barely concealed.
The Danish Football Association was forced to deny stories that they planned to quit FIFA over their hosting decision, as well as their subsequent ban on allowing teams to make pro-LGBT statements during the tournament. Back in 2014, the German Football League suggested that dozens of member nations could quit FIFA if an investigation into their proven corruption and bribery was not forthcoming.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if any nation on the planet served up a sort of vote of no confidence in FIFA by resigning their membership? They could arrange an independent World Cup, financed by capital partners and the like. Of course, in a world in which football has simply accepted FIFA’s status quo for decades, it seems highly unlikely that any meaningful change is incoming.
Could UEFA Resign from FIFA?
What would really put the cat amongst the pigeons is if a major governing body, such as UEFA, decided to resign from FIFA en masse. They would need the support their member nations of course, which would be no easy task, but FIFA’s credibility would be in tatters if European countries decided they no longer wanted to be part of their circus of corruption.
It’s interesting that, in 2022, representatives from UEFA and CONMEBOL, the governing body of football in South America, held a private meeting at which FIFA was not welcome. Every single edition of the World Cup has been won by nations from these two regions, so if they joined forces and resigned from FIFA it would be tantamount to curtains for football’s evil overseers.
The difficulty, of course, is that football isn’t about the beautiful game anymore. Football is business. And, business is money. Squirrelling away money is FIFA’s best attribute. If UEFA or any other governing body was to forge a breakaway, they would need the financial resources to be able to convince member countries that they could go it alone without FIFA’s assistance.
How about a rebadged version of the European Championships, where the top countries from other continents are invited? A global tournament featuring the best players in the world that takes place outside of FIFA’s jurisdiction. Maybe that would provide the shake-up that global football governance really needs.