Last Friday, the United States escaped with a 1-0 victory in its World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica.  But the game will be remembered less for its outcome and more for the blizzard-like conditions that engulfed Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver, Colorado.  In the 58th minute, weather conditions forced El Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar to stop play so that crews could shovel snow off of the lines of the field.  But Costa Rican soccer officials believe that Aguilar did not do enough and that instead he should have postponed the match entirely.  On Sunday, the Costa Rican Football Federation filed an official match protest with FIFA.

Unfortunately for Costa Rica, the official World Cup Regulations have fairly strict procedures for filing a protest.  If a team believes that the pitch’s playing surface has become unplayable during the course of the match, the rules require that “the captain of the protesting team shall immediately lodge a protest with the referee in the presence of the captain of the opposing team.”  Additionally, a summary of the protest must be submitted in writing “no later than two hours after the match.”  Finally, a full written report must be submitted to the FIFA general secretariat within 24 hours.  If Costa Rica did not comply with these procedures, then the protest will simply be “disregarded.”

FIFA is currently analyzing whether Costa Rica followed the correct procedures, and should have a decision soon.  But if FIFA determines that its procedures were not met, Costa Rica’s appeal options may be rather limited.  The World Cup Regulations permit appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, but these appeals may not apply to match protests.

Going forward, should FIFA keep these bright-line requirements? Or should it take a more holistic, totality-of-the-circumstances approach?

—Sam Beutler


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3 Responses to Costa Rica May Be Left Out in the Cold

  1. ADM says:

    I think that using a “totality of the circumstances” approach would leave too much room for politicking and argument. Sports are all about rules, so it seems reasonable to apply strict rules to the process of filing a protest. Finally, even if Costa Rica’s protest is not successful and the outcome stands as is, it does not seem like a great injustice worthy of rewriting the rules since the field conditions affected both teams similarly.

  2. Kim Smith says:

    The two hour deadline for a summary of the complaint does seem a little tight. Ultimately, I think the approach is fine (having bright line rules), as long as they are reasonable and not designed to be too complicated to actually follow. Ultimately, it was Costa Rica’s responsibility to know and follow the necessary procedures.

  3. Hunter says:

    Knowing staggeringly little about any of this, here’s my first blush thought: if the bright line rules are clear (as bright lines are supposed to be) and well disseminated, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t remain. Admittedly team captains themselves have more on their mind during matches than the proper process to initiate a protest about poor field conditions, but surely someone on the sidelines or in a booth could help ensure that the proper procedures are followed. After that, the 2- and 24-hour deadlines don’t seem all particularly unreasonable given the size of the soccer/football apparatuses in most World Cup countries and the amount of money in play.