The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

If FIFA kicks Israeli teams out of soccer, it has to also kick out a Korea


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a women's soccer match between the national team and the Wolmido team at the remodelled May Day Stadium in Pyongyang on Oct. 28, 2014. (Reuters/KCNA)

On Monday, I wrote about the morally and legally misguided effort by the Palestinian Authority and supportive nongovernmental organizations to expel or otherwise punish Israel from FIFA, the governing body of world football (to Americans, soccer). If FIFA goes for this gambit, it will get more than it bargained for: a Korean soccer war.

The argument for Israel's expulsion is based on a new FIFA rule against members federations playing on the territory of other members. As I explained earlier:

Nothing in the FIFA statutes that equates "territory" with sovereign territory. . . . Instead, territory, as is often the case in international texts, means jurisdiction.

This is because the FIFA is not a border demarcation body. That is why FIFA clearly separates any question of sovereign statehood and territory from FIFA membership by not requiring that member federations be recognized states . . . The claim that the acceptance of the Palestinian soccer federation into FIFA constituted a recognition of Palestine as a state and a recognition of its maximal border claims is unsupportable.

The absurdity of the Palestinian reading of FIFA rules is powerfully illustrated by the soccer status of the two Koreas.

Both North and South Korea's soccer federation's are FIFA members. Yet the governments of both Koreas claim the entire territory of the other as their own. Indeed, the constitution of the ROK (South Korea) asserts its sole sovereignty over the peninsula.

So FIFA has two member federations whose countries have 100 percent incompatible and overlapping territorial claims. Under the interpretation of FIFA rules being used against Israel, that means it is certain that one of the Koreas is playing on the other's territory, which in this case can be remedied only by expulsion.

There is a loophole in the FIFA "territorial" statute for matches played with the consent of the other member federation's consent—but there does not seem to be an evidence of express consent by either Korea. Indeed, if FIFA acts to push out Israel, it is likely that at least Pyongyang will jump on the bandwagon to cause trouble for Seoul, opening a new theater in the "soccer wars."

Oddly, a global human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, has taken the lead in the effort to kick Israel out of world soccer, citing supposed Israeli human rights violations. HRW doesn't seem to have ever suggested the expulsion of the North Korean soccer federation, despite that fact that DPRC (North Korean) football is apparently one big human rights violation. (Underperforming players are sent to coal minesif they're lucky.) Odder still, HRW has actually reported on North Korean soccer crimes, without suggesting any action be taken against the hermit kingdom's federation.