Red Card

by Madeline Barnicle

FIFA and the AUNZ organizing committee thank fans and players around the world for the trust you have placed in us. We look forward to hosting the following World Cup, and we trust that the forty-eight finalists will compete in the spirit of fair play and friendship.

After much deliberation, the organizing committee has declined to accept the application of the Autonomous Martian Territories (hereafter, “Mars”) to compete in the qualifying tournament. We recognize that this decision will be disappointing to many. This is a reflection of current FIFA policies, and we do not intend it to set a precedent for other sports governing bodies.

FIFA traditionally has six continental zones, or regions, from which teams qualify. (Because New Zealand will qualify automatically as co-hosts, and Australia are currently affiliated with the Asian zone, the remaining Oceania Football Confederation teams have been exceptionally drawn against other Asian teams for this tournament.) Mars, for somewhat obvious reasons, does not have an existing affiliation with any continental federation. This is not an insurmountable barrier, however; despite geographical constraints, Israel has been variously part of the Asian, Oceanian, and European federations.

Assuming an existing federation was willing to allow the Martian team entry, qualification would likely require them to play home-and-away legs against some or all of the other competitors in that zone. Many teams have voiced their opposition to travelling to space for competitive or even unofficial matches; notably, the friendly match scheduled between clubs FC Barcelona and Bayern München at the RoyCro Multiplex was cancelled after athletes expressed concern that the travel would needlessly disrupt their training regimen. Many fan organizations also noted that, while a potential revenue opportunity for the clubs, the match would have been played almost entirely in front of residents of the United States Lunar Territories and have been inaccessible to local supporter groups. After that controversy, national teams such as Scotland and Chinese Taipei preemptively declared they would not be willing to travel to matches in non-Earth areas until a more consistent policy was implemented for which teams qualified as “national.” (FIFA does not intend this document to resolve that question.)

We have been in consultation with the current Mars staff as they applied for participation. It was impossible to travel to inspect their stadiums or training facilities, as accepting funds for travel to Mars would have far exceeded the stipends permitted in the Transparency and Oversight Standards of 2033. However, the virtual reality reconstructions of these buildings suggest that they are well-maintained and in compliance with regulations. If and when travel to Mars is feasible for opposing teams, there will be little significant investment needed to bring the pitches up to international standard. The altered uniforms and artificial grasslike fields may present a challenge for visitors unused to this terrain, but it is not an unreasonable disadvantage since the pitch conditions affect both teams equally. Therefore, as with Bolivia’s high-altitude stadium, it should be possible to host games.

Fabrice Ekoko, a former manager of the Mars team, has stated that they would be willing to remain Earthside for several months to play their qualification matches in an abbreviated timeframe. The 2025 guidelines on scheduling international matches were written in the context of players who split time between their national teams and domestic clubs. Because the Martian league is not professionalized, we expect that clubs would be willing to release their players for such a compressed qualifying series, so the guidelines could be waived in this case.

However, we believe that the World Cup is not only a celebration of athleticism; it is also a celebration of national spirit. Regardless of its political status, a team unable to play any games in a “home” stadium in front of compatriots is not fully experiencing the opportunity for peaceful competition that the World Cup provides. There are a few exceptions, such as Iraq, where political violence has sometimes made home games impractical. Mars, however, is very socially stable and its population can experience spectator sport in venues other than the World Cup. Rather than make accommodations for a lessened experience, we believe Mars ought to wait until it has the transit infrastructure to play meaningful games against opposing teams, wherever that may be.

It is likely that, were the Mars men’s national team approved to participate in World Cup qualification, their women’s team would also apply to the next Women’s World Cup tournament. However, young men and women are not always on equal footing when it comes to interplanetary travel. Samples of liability contracts from Martian settlements such as Borealis III and 6 Noach suggest that many more women than men have voluntarily agreed to forgo extramartian travel as a condition of their sponsorship, due to concerns about the effects of radiation on egg cells. Certainly, the details of any specific individual, footballers or otherwise, are private matters. Nevertheless, in a roster of twenty-three healthy athletes, it is likely that at least one would be contractually obliged not to play matches on Earth. Giving male players the opportunity to repeatedly travel, when their female counterparts do not necessarily have that right, would be at odds with FIFA’s mission of promoting diversity in sport.

Other sports’ governing bodies have taken, and will continue to take, different approaches to extraterrestrial sport. For individual rather than team sports, it is increasingly likely that financially-independent athletes will travel to and from Earth in the course of their career. The IWF recognizes its own set of weightlifting records set on the moon and on Mars, which exist alongside the records set in Earth gravity. Table tennis player Sung Bowen competed as an Independent Martian Athlete at the last Summer Olympics. FIFA will continue to monitor the challenges and rewards of non-Earth football, but with the upcoming qualification cycle about to begin, now is the time to issue clear guidelines on eligibility. Questions may be directed to Eileen Bogaerts of the AUNZ team or Gabriel Lopez of FIFA.

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Bio:

Madeline Barnicle holds a PhD in mathematical logic from UCLA, and now lives in Maryland. She enjoys worldbuilding fantastical settings, especially simulating their sports leagues.

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