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Legal status FIFA asks to rub shoulders with UN and Red Cross

FIFA logo in shadows

FIFA is determined to emerge from the shadows of its dubious past behaviour.

(Keystone / Walter Bieri)

World football’s governing body FIFA has confirmed it is seeking to upgrade its status in Switzerland to the same footing as global NGOs like the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations.

Zurich-based FIFA is currently recognised as a non-profit association, granting it some tax exemptions and more freedom to govern its own affairs than companies. Now it wants to join the big league of international bodies that enjoy special status under Swiss law.

What does FIFA stand to gain?

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Under the Host State Act, the Swiss government outlines the conditionsexternal link that must be met along with the potential benefits. These include “immunity from legal proceedings”, “exemption from Swiss entry and residence requirements” and increased tax breaks. But perks are not automatic and are only awarded on a case-by-case basis depending on the nature of each organisation.

In a statement to Swiss public broadcaster RTSexternal link, FIFA said that tax did not play a part in its application. Instead, the main motive appears to be lifting restrictions on recruiting international staff.

The 8,500 Swiss employment visas available this year for non-EU workers is an increase of 1,000 on 2018. But many multinationals argue this is still barely enough to recruit the best international talent.

Why now?

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The International Olympic Committeeexternal link has been on the list of privileged entitiesexternal link since 2000, under the category “Other International Bodies”.

Michel Zen Ruffinen, who served as FIFA Secretary General between 1998 and 2002, told RTS that enhanced status has been on FIFA’s agenda “for some time”, although no formal application was made during in his time in office.

According to media reports, the initiative may have come from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who raised the issue with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis just weeks after first coming into office in 2017.

Are there any potential banana skins?

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Potentially quite a few! FIFA has gone through a tumultuous few years of corruption scandals, criminal investigations and convictions of key figures. Some investigations are still ongoing, including in Switzerland.

The World Economic Forum was initiated into the exclusive Swiss NGO club in 2015 for playing an “important role for Switzerlandexternal link” having “attained a global dimension and gained wide recognition among states and international organisations.” FIFA has gained a global reputation for bungs.

After his re-election for a second presidency term at FIFA last week, Infantino insisted the body had cleaned up its act. “The organisation has changed from a toxic, almost criminal state to what it should be,” he said. “We no longer have room for corruption at FIFA. Zero tolerance.”

But elevating FIFA to rub shoulders with the likes of the World Health Organization might for the moment be too hot a political potato for Switzerland to contemplate.

What are people saying?

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Social Democrat politician Cédric Wermuth believes that FIFA is too focused on generating revenues to be considered for such status. “Sport is a cultural asset. FIFA represents the privatisation of the trade in this cultural asset. Today, we can no longer talk about a non-profit organisation, or even consider NGO status for FIFA,” he told RTS.

People’s Party politician Roland Büchel, a fierce critic of FIFA in the past, adopted a more conciliatory tone. “If they just want to get better access to non-EU staff then that makes sense for me,” he told “But in no way this should this mean special privileges like diplomatic passports or tax breaks for individuals.”

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