A Sunday without soccer in El Salvador

Fans of the teams in El Salvador's top national league, the First Division, were left without soccer matches to watch on Sunday.  A dispute between the government and the federation which oversees soccer in El Salvador had resulted in no referees willing to officiate at the scheduled games in the second round of the current season of Salvadoran professional soccer.  

The players in this drama are (1) FESFUT -- the Salvadoran Soccer Federation; (2)  the First Division of Salvadoran professional soccer and its twelve competing teams; (3) FIFA -- the world governing body for soccer, (4) INDES -- the National Insitute of Sport for El Salvador which is an agency of the Salvadoran government and its associated Tribunal of Discipline, Ethics and Sports Appeals (the "Tribunal"); and (5) ASAPROF -- the Association of Professional Referees of El Salvador.

The events of the weekend began with a raid on the offices of FESFUT, the home of its Secretary General and the offices of its accountants.  Officials with the attorney general's office indicated that they were investigating fraudulent administration and money laundering within the Federation.

The head of FESFUT dismissed the search for documentation as something "normal" and said that FESFUT was fully cooperating with authorities.  

At the same time, the Tribunal has issued an order suspending the Executive Committee of FESFUT and the Secretary General pending administrative proceedings.

With the leadership of FESFUT suspended, ASAPROF and the referees for Sunday's games announced that they were caught in an impossible position.  They could run afoul of the rules of FIFA if they officiate over matches which are not officially sanctioned, but FESFUT, which sanctions the matches and the participation of the referees was not functioning. The referees announced they would be ready to officiate the scheduled matches if they received written clarification (signed and sealed) from FESFUT for the sanction of the match. That written clarification never arrived and so Sunday's matches never took place for lack of referees.   

A large part of what is going on is a fight over control of Salvadoran soccer.  The position of FESFUT and FIFA is that a national federation like FESFUT must be independent and not subject to interference or control by third parties.  INDES and the Tribunal seek to exercise a form of governmental control to which FIFA and FESFUT object.

Here it bears mentioning that the unpaid president of INDES is Yamil Bukele, brother of Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele.

Salvadoran soccer under FESFUT has certainly had plenty of problems in the past decade.   In 2013, 14 players of the Salvadoran national team received lifetime bans for fixing matches.   In August 2021,  the former president of FESFUT pled guilty in a federal court in the US to participating in bribery schemes in awarding media rights and arranging exhibition matches for Salvadoran soccer.  In October 2021, FIFA fined FESFUT for fan misconduct and ordered the Salvadoran national team to play certain matches with its stadium partially closed to fans.

The conflict over First Division soccer continued on Monday.  This morning, FESFUT tweeted that most of its employees were not being permitted by government agents into the offices of the Federation.  Later in the day, the First Division of Salvadoran professional soccer tweeted out a schedule of games which will be played on Wednesday, July 20, saying there was one member of the FESFUT executive committee who had not been sanctioned by the Tribunal and would issue the appropriate sanction for the matches.  No word yet from the referees on whether they will show up to officiate the games.

The cancellation of Sunday's games was just the high point of a conflict which has been brewing between INDES led by Yamil Bukele and FESFUT:

The differences between INDES and FESFUT began in late 2019, when the new sports law came into force. The government gave all sports federations a period of one year to leave the Ministry of the Interior, register with INDES and elect their officials, as per the requirements of the new law. The Federation did not comply with this. 
FESFUT argued for months that if it registered with INDES, it jeopardized the independence that FIFA asks for it as a condition and that its statutes had many articles that did not match the law. 
In April, FIFA officials arrived in El Salvador to meet with the President of INDES and the President of FESFUT, but no agreement was reached. 
According to the new rules, if FESFUT does not comply with sports law, INDES will not renew the credentials required to access the banking system, along with other procedures. The term ends on 31 July 2022.

One commentator expressed the possible consequences if authorities uncover the money laundering they say they are investigating:

This could be another setback for soccer in El Salvador because FIFA could intervene and suspend them from any international competition for the next two years which could see the national team not being able to compete in the upcoming Gold Cup and the Nations League in CONCACAF.

At the club level the teams from El Salvador’s top tier that qualified for the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League will not be able to participate if the investigation reveals that Carrillo and his members were involved in money laundering during his term. Carrillo is also being accused of manipulating the referees for not wanting to work this weekend amid the investigation.

 Left disappointed by all this conflict over control of FESFUT, are the players, the vendors, and the fans.


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