Membership in international sporting bodies and statehood | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 25, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:08 AM, February 25, 2020

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Membership in international sporting bodies and statehood

In the case of Reference re Secession of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada observes that "the viability of a would-be state in the international community depends, as a practical matter, upon recognition by other states". However, as stated by Prof. Oppenheim, there is no settled view as to whether recognition is the only means of establishing a new state. The establishment of a state is to some extent dependable on its participation in the contemporary world affairs. Thus, membership in international organisations has become a feasible alternative mechanism of becoming part of the international community.

International organisations are usually created by states for engaging in the global regulation of any specific subject matter through co-operation. While membership in such organisations is a matter of politics just like recognition by a state, membership in international sporting organisations are comparatively easier. Like international organisations, sporting bodies regulates an important aspect of human activity, i.e. sports. When an entity participates in international sporting competitions, it acts like an established state, even though its claim of statehood may not be entirely undisputed. Though sports have not been beyond the touch of politics, sporting bodies have been more welcoming in accepting entities as members compared to other international organisations. This can be easily illustrated by the membership of FIFA, international football's governing body, which stands at 211, compared to UN, which stands at 193. In the case of the Olympics, 13 territories have Olympic committees recognised by the International Olympic Committee but are not members of the UN.

In December 2014, Kosovo became a member of the International Olympic Federation. The irony stands in the fact that Kosovo was able to participate in Olympic Games for the first time and earn its first ever gold medal in the Rio Olympics in Brazil, a country that has not yet recognised it. Two years later, Kosovo became the first non-UN member country to be admitted into UEFA and was also accepted by FIFA as its 210th member country. Palestine, which is an observer in UN, is a member of both FIFA and Asian Football Confederation and won the Bangabandhu Gold Cup, held in Bangladesh in 2018. And these are not the most glorious example of use of sports by an entity to make a place for itself in the international community.

Following the World War II, West Germany was quickly recognised by most states. The Soviet-overseen East Germany was recognised only by the Socialist Bloc. In seeking recognition from the international community, East Germany used participation in international sports. East German athletes competed, and excelled, in regional sporting competitions held amongst Socialist Bloc states and were gradually accepted in global sporting competitions. In 1965, the Olympic committee of the East Germany was recognised by the IOC and was allowed to participate in the 1972 Olympic Games taking place in Munich, West Germany. East Germany was then recognised by West Germany and subsequently by other states. Participation in sporting competitions led way to de facto recognition of East Germany, which gradually lead to its de jure recognition.

On the other hand, entities like Northern Cyprus, Jersey have failed to make a place for itself in the sporting bodies, largely due to its total non-acceptance in the international community.  It can be observed that in obtaining recognition by sporting bodies, recognition of Kosovo's independence by half of the world's states was an important factor. Both FIFA Statutes and the Olympic Charter define "country" as "an independent state recognised by the international community." And it was under this criterion that Kosovo received its membership. Even for East Germany, it had previous recognition from Socialist Bloc states. Thus, even to achieve membership in the sporting bodies, an entity must have the minimum amount of recognition in the international community.

Though membership in sporting bodies like IOC, FIFA, etc. cannot bear the same importance as membership in bodies like UN, EU or OIC, etc.; but in reality, they hold great practical significance. Sporting events like Olympics, World Cups attract billions of audiences worldwide. It is more likely that those sporting fans, which make up a significant portion of the international community, will accept an entity as state if it participates and performs in such events, rather than being approved in a meeting in Brussels or Geneva. Although membership in various sporting organisations and other international organisations may not conclusively establish an entity's position in the international community, in reality, such membership has almost the same political effect as recognition of states. Membership in sporting bodies has enabled states like Palestine, Kosovo to participate in global sporting events just like any other independent state.

The writer is student of law, University of Chittagong.

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