In a recent match between Argentina and Chile, television cameras captured the moment that Lionel Messi verbally abused a linesman for flagging a foul committed by Messi on an opponent. Whilst not listed in the referees match report, the incident was reported later to officials at FIFA who took retroactive action to discipline the 29 year old forward; banning him from Argentina’s next four international games and fining him CHF 10,000 ($10,000 USD). The FIFA disciplinary committee who’s sole purpose is to enforce the FIFA disciplinary code globally handed down the ban citing that Messi had broken article 57 of the code around abusive language or acts towards match officials. They proceeded to back up the severity of the ban citing that the punishment was in line with several other cases handed out by the Committee over the years.
However in a startling turn of events, that ruling has now been overturned by FIFA’s appeals committee who have lifted the ban permitting Messi to play in all forthcoming games for Argentina. At the hearing in Zurich, the Appeals Committee approved the appeal lodged by the Argentine Football Association along with Messi’s lawyers citing insufficient evidence to support the ban. However in a baffling statement they did appear to acknowledge that Messi had indeed directed foul language towards the linesman by calling his behaviour reproachable. Messi himself was not at the hearing ‘for personal reasons’ but is said to be happy with the outcome.
As of course are the Argentine Football Association who are now able to field Messi in their next three games which all coincidentally are crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying matches. This news could not have come at a better time with Argentina struggling in the South American qualifying group. Sitting fifth on 22 points after 14 games, Argentina need to put points on the board if they are to stand a chance of qualify for Russia. With only the top four going through automatically and the fifth placed team playing in a two legged qualifier match with the winner of the Oceania region, Argentina needed their star player back and on the field. Having lost him already for the game against Bolivia at the end of March (which they lost 2-0), Argentina were at real risk of slipping further down the table without him. Messi will now be back in the team (injuries permitting) to face Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru as Argentina look to prevent the worst from happening – failing to qualify.
That in itself would be disastrous for Argentina who reached the 2014 final and for Messi himself who is desperate to win the World Cup and finally put to bed the argument that Diego Maradona is better than him simply because he lifted the coveted golden trophy. But it would have also been a disaster for FIFA too if Argentina and more importantly Lionel Messi weren’t at the World Cup next year in Russia. In a constant fight with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the title of the current best player in the world; Messi is an iconic player who drives not only fan interest on a global scale but significant advertising revenues as well. A World Cup without Messi would be like the NBA finals without LeBron James. It would still function and take place just perhaps not as great as it could have been with him there. Sponsors certainly wouldn’t be as happy taking on a tournament with no Messi included.
So whilst to many it would appear that the Appeals Committee simply overruled the disciplinary committee, perhaps what in fact happened was that both were overruled by FIFA’s underlining desire to line its financial coffers more than its desire to protect the integrity of the game. I wonder if the situation had been exactly the same but the player had been a lesser known figure in the squad; would the appeals committee been as eager to throw out the ruling made by their brothers over in disciplinary? Or indeed would they have backed the decision made by them and upheld the ban? What is certain is that FIFA as a whole would have cared less about the ruling and its effect on qualifying; that was unless said players absence had a direct knock on effect to Argentina’s chances of qualify. Then perhaps they would have stepped in once again to influence proceedings and protect its bottom line.