Opinion: What’s Up With This Guy Suing FIFA In New York?

Posted on September 24, 2021
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Written By on September 24, 2021

Las month, a somewhat bizarre lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York by Samson Siasia as plaintiff, suing the world’s soccer governing body, FIFA.

A follower of FIFA might recall that some former FIFA officials are well acquainted with a District Court of New York. However, the infamous indictments of FIFA officials were filed in the Eastern District, not the Southern District.

This complaint, if the plaintiff were to ultimately prevail, would be a significant decision. Siasia is effectively asking the federal court in the Southern District of New York to declare that FIFA is functioning as a government and therefore owes constitutional protections to those subject to the organization’s rulings.

Who is the plaintiff here?

Siasia is a U.S. citizen, who currently lives in Atlanta. He received a professional soccer coach’s license in 2009, which was issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation (who is not a party to this lawsuit.)

Siasia was employed as the head coach of several national teams including Ghana and Nigeria. Siasia was the Nigeria Football Federation‘s head coach for their under-23 national team during the 2008 Summer Olympics, a team that won the silver medal in Beijing.

Questionable choice of acquaintances

In March 2010, Siasia received an email from Wilson Perumal, probably one of the two most notorious match-fixers in the world. Perumal allegedly offered Siasia a job coaching a team that Perumal was allegedly going to run and own.

A series of emails from Perumal followed over the coming weeks. Within the emails were details of Perumal’s plans to take over a team in the “Australian ‘A’ league.”

The details of Perumal’s job offer were as follows:

You know my nature of business. I will personally bring in 5 Players and dictate the show. You will do your coaching job and play along. I will not drag you into what I am doing. My players will take instructions from me. You will have just close one eye and do your coaching job. There is no relegation in this league. No one can fire you. What amount will u be asking for as salary.

The parties exchanged several emails where details of a potential arrangement were hammered out. In April, after Siasia inquired with Perumal about the possibility of a signing bonus, which was rejected, Perumal said that the team had hired a coach from Argentina.

The FIFA part

The emails were the basis for a FIFA Investigative Report “used to charge and convict Siasia of bribery, a crime.”

In the years before the results of the FIFA investigation, Siasia would be hired as head coach of the Nigerian Senior Men’s National Team but was fired after failing to qualify for the African Cup. He would then return the Nigerian men’s under-23 coach for the 2016 Olympics, losing in the quarterfinals.

As the complaint filed in the Southern District of New York frames it, “in a parallel universe,” Perumal was arrested in Finland, and as a result of his arrest, police seized his electronic devices. The information on the devices would eventually be shared with FIFA officials and lead to the investigation of Siasia.

The who’s what?

The complaint then goes on to claim that FIFA has its own “private ‘criminal’ court” in the form of the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which would eventually uphold some of FIFA’s findings.

What Siasia’s complaint effectively boils down to is the claim that his coaching license is property, and he is entitled to constitutional due process before his license can be taken or suspended.

The basis of Siasia’s claim rests on the assertion that FIFA is a government actor, and would therefore owe due process to him before they could revoke his license via a lifetime ban and monetary fine.

Constitutional rights?

Siasia’s complaint alleges that he was deprived of various due process rights including:

  • adequate notice of the bribery charge;
  • an opportunity for a hearing;
  • a fair and impartial hearing panel;
  • the opportunity to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses;
  • a decision based on the evidence presented;
  • a record of the proceedings and;
  • an opportunity for appeal or judicial review of the decision.

The Court of Arbitration of Sport reduced Siasia’s ban from life to five years and set aside the fine of 50,000 Swiss Francs.

Legal claims?

Despite his success at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Siasia, through his lawyer, filed suit in the U.S., alleging:

  • A violation of his due process rights;
  • Trespass to chattels (by depriving him the ability to use his license);
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; and,
  • Negligence

What to make of this case?

The likelihood that Siasia succeeds in this suit is small. Generally in the United States, organizations like FIFA (or the NCAA) are not considered state actors, and therefore are not required to afford due process.

Similarly, even quasi-governmental organizations like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency have been largely outside the purview of the Constitution.

Despite this, it perhaps highlights the need for sports leagues to consider how they will deal with gambling-related violations of league rules in the wake of now-legalized sports betting. Perhaps not all gambling violations merit lifetime bans?

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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