ISIS' end is nigh: It has tried to ban football

In one of its more laughable moves, ISIS has banned football referees in  itsrapidly decreasing territories.

Syrian refugee girls play football at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria.Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, militants told local football organisers in the Deir ez-Zor area of eastern Syria that referees were outlawed because they "do not judge according to what Allah has revealed".

Their decisions are made on the basis of Fifa's rules, not on the basis of Sharia and therefore are "in violation of the commands of Allah", according to the jihadist group.

It comes after ISIS declared football illegal in Raqqa when it took over the Syrian city more than two years ago. It decided the sport was anti-Islamic and in July this year four footballers were beheaded in the northern town.

The extraordinary reports are evidence of a trend we already know – ISIS' grip on its territories is so stringent that any outside influence is barred.

In this rare instance FIFA are the good guys. For all its many flaws as an organisation, its reach and therefore its rules are global. They are universally applied across the world's football matches. And in that sense FIFA serves as a force for equality. Official football everywhere complies with its laws. In that sense no one is greater or of less value on the field.

It is often said that sport, alongside democracy, is a great leveller. After all the press releases and TV debates, when it comes down to the actual decision,Theresa May has one vote in the ballot station. And unless you are Charles Moore so does everyone else.

Likewise on the sports field, rank and education don't come in to it when someone lines up to take a penalty against someone else. It comes down to one-on-one, team against team, who has the more determination, talent and skill.

It is this overarching principle that ISIS objects to. FIFA's football rules, like sporting rules more broadly, are something militants cannot control. They pay no heed to heavy weapons or child soldiers. They defy ISIS' claim of power. And so they are banned and declared to be a "violation of Allah's command and the Sunnah". 

ISIS has an ideology so insular and fragile that it does not permit any intrusion from the outside world.

And so we should laugh. Not just because the idea of banning the rules of football is in itself laughable. But because it is one of many signs that the group's strength is weakening. ISIS' leadership is so paranoid football's rules are seen as a threat. It is so weak that any outside influence is a danger. That is something that should be celebrated while we mourn the horror they have inflicted.

Laughter and mockery is one thing ISIS cannot stand. And it will be one of the ways they are defeated.