Still pulling strings: suspended AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam
By James M. DorseyIn a defeat of proponents of badly needed reform of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the soccer body’s executive committee stalled moves to reorganize its governance structure, investigate Mohammed Bin Hammam, its president suspended on charges of financial mismanagement and potential corruption, and challenge a controversial marketing rights agreement. Instead it focused on scheduling presidential and committee elections for April.
“Bin Hammam’s people successfully pushed back. They may now be stronger than they were. They are protecting vested interests,” one reformer said.In the battle to obstruct reforms that would have tackled the Asian soccer body’s troubled governance structure and helped improve its tarnished image, the executive committee deferred decisions on an internal audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers that raised serious questions about a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) negotiated under Mr. Bin Hammam’s supervision with Singapore-based World Sports Group.
Responsibility for dealing with the report was delegated to the AFC’s legal committee in which sources said Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, wields considerable influence. The committee’s chairman, Pakistani government minister and Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat thwarted an attempt to establish an ethics task force to deal with issues of governance and mismanagement by demanding that he be appointed head of the force rather than Moya Dodd, a respected Australian lawyer and member of the AFC executive committee.The executive committee also deferred a proposal for an independent valuation of the WSG contract, which PwC said may be undervalued.
“The PwC report was effectively buried,” one source said.The proposals for reform were being pushed by a minority of the member associations, including those of Jordan, Singapore, Japan, Australia and Guam, sources said.
Sources said opponents of change were aided by reluctance of acting AFC president Zhang Zhilong to take a firm stand in the committee meeting. “Zhilong sat on the fence. He allowed Makhdoum’s group to reign,” one source said, adding that he has his eyes on the election in which many see the Chinese national as a frontrunner.The sources said Mr. Bin Hammam’s supporters benefitted from the fact that Mr. Zhilong and others who now are critical of Mr. Bin Hammam are hampered by their history. Mr. Zhilong recently accused Mr. Bin Hammam and his lawyer, Eugene Gulland, of employing “intimidatory tactics” in his battle within the AFC. Messrs Bin Hammam and Gulland have rejected the accusation.
"Zhilong is doing his best but Bin Hammam has made clever use of history -- Zhilong was head of the finance committee under Bin Hammam. Zhilong is a little bit scared and can’t be too aggressive. He knows that he is not without blame and that the ground under him is not rock solid,” one source said.
An AFC statement asserting that the committee meeting was “marked by solidarity” notwithstanding, sources said there were bitter battles over the calls for reform and action on the basis of the PwC report with pro-Bin Hammam members strategizing deep into the night on the eve of the crucial gathering.The AFC’s deferral of action on the PwC audit portrays the Asian soccer body as an organization unwilling or unable to confront head on serious allegations of financial mismanagement and possible corruption. The decision nonetheless is not enough to bury the audit.
Responsibility for investigating Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of the AFC, including the allegations made by the PwC report was handed prior to the executive committee meeting to world soccer body FIFA. The investigation is being merged with a separate FIFA investigation into charges that Mr. Bin Hammam last year sought to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his campaign to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.The blocking of proposed reforms and action on the PwC’s report is Mr. Bin Hammam’s second victory in recent months. The Lausanne=based Court for the Arbitration of Sport (CAS) earlier overturned a lifetime ban on involvement on soccer imposed on 63-year old Qatari national by FIFA. CAS was careful however not to declare Mr. Bin Hammam innocent, saying that the evidence presented was insufficient and shoddy and that FIFA should come back with a better prepared case.
Mr. Bin Hammam, who is at the center of the worst scandal in the history of both FIFA and the AFC, has repeatedly denied any wrong doing and has charged that the allegations were construed in a bid to destroy him because he had credibly challenged Mr. Blatter.The PwC audit concluded that Mr. Bin Hammam had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account, raised questions about the negotiation and terms of the MRA and rang alarm bells about $14 million in payments to Mr. Bin Hammam by a WSG shareholder in advance of the signing of the agreement.
The AFC this month, In a move that effectively tightens Mr. Bin Hammam and WSG's grip on key parts of the AFC including Mr. Soosay as well as its marketing, legal and finance committee, fired its marketing director Satoshi Saito, who was seconded for two years to the group by the Japanese Football Association (JFA), one of the Qatari national’s staunchest critics.Sources said that Mr. Saito was advised that his contract would not be extended and that he no longer had to come to the office. Mr. Saito, the sources said, had long been barred from meetings with WSG, AFC's marketing partner, on the grounds that "the company holds all plenipotentiary rights to AFC's marketing rights." Some sources said the fact that Mr. Saito was likely to be replaced by a lower level manager rather than a director strengthened WSG’s grip, but was also motivated by the soccer body’s budgetary shortfalls.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.