Football, Religion and the Separation of Powers

Iago Khvichia

"Five days shalt thou labour, as the Bible says. The seventh day is the Lord thy God's. The sixth day is for football." Anthony Burgess

It has been a long time since state power, on the level of constitutions, was separated into the legislative, executive and judicial branches. However, it should be obvious from the title of this article that I am not going to speak about the tractate of Charles-Louis de Montesquieu. In any case, much has been written about that and saying anything new within the confines of the three pages allocated to my article is beyond my abilities.

In contrast to the above said, there is no clear-cut answer as to how power is separated in the world of football.

There are people who view the players and their fans as the two main components of football. But such a separation would be as incomplete as the separation of state power into the legislative and executive branches alone – as was suggested by John Locke.

It would be incomplete because football (just like the state) is about much more than just the footballer-supporter relationship. Football is a separate "state" that has all those same institutions that any ordinary parliamentary state should have.

I will try to list, one by one, the common features that football and the state share:

the Shangri-La Casino and the Patriarchate of Georgia (red arrow)
1. Voters – there are people who do not perform their "civil duty" to choose a favorite team with the same frequency as ordinary citizens do not go to elections. True, there are no surveys conducted in this regard, but I am sure that if anyone were to explore it the numbers of those indifferent towards football and towards elections would likely be very close (my assumption is supported by my own observation of my friends).

2. The legislature – FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association), which imposes certain regulations, is basically harmful (in this it amazingly resembles any parliament that has been elected in Georgia) and wants no one to interfere in its affairs (nor is interference in parliament's activity welcomed in Georgia). FIFA also contains a certain religious component, which we will discuss in detail below, and let me recall that the parliaments of some countries (for example, Iran) also have this function. Furthermore, FIFA has its own ideology, which is something in between the political ideologies of Georgia's Conservative Party and the Christian-Democratic Movement.

3. The executive – the footballers, clubs and national teams that follow the rules established by FIFA. They often dislike those rules, demanding that they be changed, but FIFA, for considerations of protecting the sacredness of tradition, always has some counter argument.

4. Sovereignty – any external intervention in the sphere of football is completely unacceptable. Such a move would be considered a violation tantamount to the annexation of a state.

5. Judiciary – a corps of referees who control the execution of the rules introduced by FIFA on the pitch. To this end, they use such methods as the imposition of fines and issuing warnings with red and yellow cards. On the pitch governance is performed by whistling, which in state governance amounts to administrative acts.

6. Religion – the religious component of football is very large. The congregation of football is numerous and thus the highest degree of resemblance between the state and football lies in this aspect. And, as is the case with any religion, this has its own form of management.

For the purpose of comparison let's take an example:

The religious management of our state is performed by the Patriarchate of Georgia, which uses various saints, "undecayed" bodies, religious relics, the Bagrationi dynasty, and so on and so forth as tools of administration; it has claims on monopolizing the truth; dislikes any novelty; tries to censor every new word to defend tradition; and there is a widespread, but officially unverified, suspicion in society that the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia has ties with Russia's special services.

The management of football's congregation is performed by FIFA, which uses the authority of various footballers, coaches, managers, and club symbols as tools of governance; it represents an absolute monopoly in the sphere of football; it abandons the labor and toil of thousands of people to the mercy of the qualifications of its referees; and, according to unconfirmed reports, it struck an underhand deal with Russia's special services for the 2018 Mundial (let me recall that England was among the candidates for hosting that Mundial and their bid was presented, alongside David Beckham, by Prince William himself and Prime Minister David Cameron).

Now let's move to the main point...

As is known, the 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar – a completely non-footballing country that has as many relations with football as the Church has with commercial businesses.

Nevertheless, FIFA decided that Qatar must be given the chance to become a footballing country and, driven by this motive, it entrusted Qatar with the privilege of hosting the Mundial.

When such incongruous things happen, suspicions necessarily arise. They easily arose in this case proceeding from the reality that it would be hard to find anyone in the world who would connect the word "football" with Qatar in any way. Consequently, allegations of corruption have already been voiced and official representatives from the world of football have also make statements in this regard. "If a fact of corruption is established there, it will be necessary to hold a new draw," said Michel Platini, the president of UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations). Media outlets have also released various documents which, in their opinion, present convincing evidence of corruption.

Let's compare this with the behavior of that institution which cares about the spirituality of the local congregation in Georgia.

You must all remember the scandal surrounding the construction of the Shangri-La Casino – the congregation in a frenzy about the construction of a "devil's den" next to the Patriarchate, the accusations made about damaging the appearance of the city, and so on and so forth.

Frankly speaking, I do not like the appearance of this building either; it could have been much better designed (although the purpose of the building and the service provided there is, of course, of no importance).
You must remember that a large segment of the population was waiting for a tough statement from the Patriarchate condemning this institution and its ilk.

I think that no religious group, including the Patriarchate of Georgia, should have the right to impede the operation of any business, but it is a fact that a segment of our citizens were expecting the usual form of strict statement from the Patriarchate condemning the casino being built next to its grounds. However, this did not happen.

Although one can obviously not claim anything for sure, there is nothing to prevent questions from being raised...

In 2011, the state handed over plots of land in the villages of Aghkatala, Ponichala and Qarajala in the Gardabani district to the Patriarchate of Georgia for only a symbolic price, upon the condition that those plots of land would not be sold or leased in any form.

In 2014, however, the new government of Georgia lifted that ban on those lands, thereby granting the Patriarchate of Georgia unlimited ownership rights.

Guess what happened thereafter.

These properties appeared under the ownership of Krtsanisi Park LLC...

In other words, the Patriarchate gave these assets, which it had received at only a symbolic price, to the above mentioned commercial organization in exchange for 25% of shares in the company.
The remaining 75% of shares belong to the M & C Georgian Holding LLC, the director of which is Dachi Gvamberia, who is simultaneously the director of Krtsanisi Park LLC.
Do you not believe that?

Since the number of assets is too large to be listed in this article, I will indicate the codes of each land plot from the above named villages so that readers can check any of them and seek the remaining assets for themselves.

1. – in Aghkatala village

2. – in Ponichala village

3. – in Qarajala village

Let's move on to more interesting stories. Dachi Gvamberia is also the founder of Georgian Casino Group LLC and the owner of 25% of the shares of that company (the owner of the remaining 75% is a company registered in the Netherlands). This company is the lessee of the real estate that houses the Shangri-La Casino.

In terms of the law, there might not be any problem here, just like no legal issue might arise regarding the selection of Qatar as the host of the Mundial. But when one gives the right to Qatar to hold the World Cup, after experiencing an initial sense of shock and inconvenience, one will necessarily come to ask questions about possible corruption. A question thus came to my mind in much the same way – not in connection with the casino or its owners (this is an absolutely legitimate and respected business), but in connection with that organization that deems gambling a mortal sin.

This question did not come to my mind because of any moral position (morality and its content is the choice of an individual), the question arose because of its legal aspect. In all countries worldwide a company of limited liability is a legal subject conducting commercial activity; however, the decree of the Parliament of Georgia on the "Approval of the Constitutional Agreement between the Georgian state and the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia," which has higher power than the law, says: "the Church shall not exercise business activity directly" (Article 6).

P.S. I am really interested in two things – whether Qatar will be deprived of the right to host the 2022 Mundial and what business is being conducted by Krtsanisi Park LLC – a company that was jointly established by the Patriarchate of Georgia and M & C Georgian Holding LLC and which already holds up to 30 land plots in the Gardabani district alone.


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