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Showing posts with label Blatter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blatter. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

AFC power struggle reflects sorry state of soccer governance

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein 

By James M. Dorsey

FIFA Vice President and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee member Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein in an uncommon display of elegance and magnanimity in the rarefied world of world soccer as well as of Middle Eastern and North African leaders has conceded defeat in a battle that is symptomatic of the sordid state of football governance.

Prince Ali’s concession came even before the AFC Congress in Sao Paolo on the eve of the World Cup in Brazil adopted a resolution that solidified the power base of AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and could next year terminate Prince Ali’s presence in the FIFA executive committee.

Taking the high ground, Prince Ali at the last minute supported a proposal by Sheikh Salman to combine the post of AFC president and FIFA vice president rather than maintain the vice presidency as an elected position in the realization that the Bahraini’s power grab was likely to succeed.

“In the spirit of Asian solidarity and harmony, I asked all member associations present at AFC Congress ahead of the vote to pass this amendment and to be united in this vote for the best of Asia. Our unity as a confederation is crucial at a time when we must work together to develop football in Asia; which I believe is our core mission. A mission I am committed to. It is far more important than positions, chairs and seats,” Prince Ali said in a statement.

Prince Ali who was elected three years ago had bitterly opposed the proposal prior to the AFC congress on the grounds that it sent the wrong signal at a time that world soccer needs demonstrations of greater transparency and accountability the most.

In endorsing the proposal at the last moment, Prince Ali hoped to demonstrate that soccer governance should be about the benefit of the sport rather than personal power, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa where it is highly politicized and ruling elites control the game in a bid to gain political benefit and prevent the pitch from becoming a platform for anti-government protest.

Prince Ali could nonetheless as yet decide to challenge Sheikh Salman in next year’s AFC presidential election or run for the FIFA executive seat that will become vacant as a result of the combination of the AFC presidency and the FIFA vice presidency. 

At stake in an at times bitter battle between Prince Ali, a prominent reformer, and Sheikh Salman, a proponent of the existing order that has produced the worst crisis in the history of soccer, was the need for a radical revamp of the sport’s governance structures.

Proponents of reform, among whom Prince Ali figures prominently, have been fighting an uphill battle for the past four years. That battle has become more difficult with FIFA president Sepp Blatter whose image has been tarnished by multiple scandals, including fresh allegations of Qatari bribery in its successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, seeking to weaken his critics within the group as he campaigns for a fourth term.

The election last year of Sheikh Salman to complete the term of disgraced AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam, the Qatari national at the centre of the Qatar controversy and the FIFA scandals, says much about world soccer management’s attitude towards governance. Three national soccer players in Sheikh Salman’s home country were three years ago denounced as traitors, detained and tortured for participating in anti-government demonstrations three years ago. The players have been released but Bahrain has since arrested two whole teams.

Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family and head of the Bahrain Football Association, has refused to comment on the plight of his players. British prosecutors are weighing a petition by a Bahraini national for the arrest of a relative of Sheikh Salman’s,  Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the eldest son of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, commander of the Gulf island’s Royal Guard and head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, on suspicion of involvement in the abuse of political prisoners. Prince Nasser phoned into the show on state-run television that denounced the three national team players in a demonstration of support of what amounted to a kangaroo court.

Sheikh Salman’s bid to gain total control of the AFC rather than democratize soccer governance came not only at a time that confidence in the integrity of the sport’s management is being mired in a seeming cesspool of corruption and greed, but also in which the integrity of the selection process of participants in the World Cup is being called into question.

A just published study by Canadian researchers Christian Stone and Michael Rod in Soccer & Society concluded that the current system for World Cup qualification was not based on ensuring qualification of the best 32 teams in the world but on securing and enhancing FIFA’s profitability. FIFA was reported to have earned $4 billion since the last World Cup four years ago, including its sponsorship fees. The study concluded that the qualification system did not “fairly allocate qualification spots on the number of teams per (regional soccer) federation or any other metric.”

Messrs. Stone and Rod argued that FIFA’s system of fixed World Cup berths for each of its six member federations means that Latin America and Europe occupy half of the available spots in a World Cup even though they account for only 20 percent of the total FIFA population. Moreover, qualification matches for the World Cup account for only one percent of all games played by teams from different regional confederations.

“As such, while there continues to be development and growth of teams from regions outside of CONMEBOL (Latin America) and UEFA (Europe), these teams are given limited possibility of greater international exposure in order to satisfy the World Cup status quo allocation of spots to some confederations,” Messrs. Stone and Rod said.

They went on to argue that “if indeed the World Cup is a tournament that is home to the best 32 national footballing teams in the world, than steps should be taken to ensure that this is the case for each tournament, regardless of the origin of the teams…. The important factor here is the transparency of the process that removes exclusive world football power from the executives at FIFA and instead shares it among the various stakeholders of football.”

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bin Hammam payments question Qatar World Cup bid and FIFA/AFC anti-corruption efforts

Mohammed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner 

By James M. Dorsey

Media reports of questionable payments by a company owned by banned former world soccer body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam to another disgraced former FIFA executive committee member, Jack Warner, raise renewed questions about Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup as well the integrity of FIFA and the AFC’s efforts to root out corruption.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Doha-based Kemco Group wholly owned by Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was banned by FIFA in 2012 because of “conflicts of interest” during his AFC presidency and FIFA vice presidency, had paid some $2 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and others related to him shortly after Qatar was awarded the World Cup.

In a statement to the Telegraph, the Qatari committee responsible for World Cup-related infrastructure rejected any knowledge that would call the payments into question. “The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA’s bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and the individuals involved in the 2022 Bid Committee are unaware of any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals."

Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA in 2011 to avoid investigation by the group about his role in an alleged attempt by Mr. Bin Hammam to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his campaign to unseat Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy because of the corruption allegations and has since insisted that he is innocent. Mr. Bin Hammam ended an almost two-year effort to fight the FIFA ban under pressure from Qatar.

The renewed focus on Mr. Bin Hammam’s activities comes as Qatar is under severe pressure to reform its labour system that deprives the country’s majority population of foreign workers of basic rights in accordance with international standards. It also comes as FIFA is debating a change of its rules to make the AFC president automatically a member of its executive committee.

The disclosure by The Daily Telegraph puts renewed pressure on AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to act on the recommendations of an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) of 
Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the group. Sheikh Salman, despite electoral promises to the contrary, has effectively squashed the audit that advised the AFC to seek legal counsel for possible civil and legal action against the Mr. Bin Hammam and review or cancellation of a $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) that Mr. Bin Hammam negotiated. 

“Significant payments (totalling $250,000) have also been made to Mr. Jack Warner for which no reason has been provided. We note that Mr. Warner and Mr. Hammam have been subject to averse media coverage concerning alleged corruption,” the PwC report said. The payments included the purchase of a camera and a Samsonite bag.

A 54-page Singapore court ruling rejecting a demand by WSG that this writer disclose his sources because of an alleged breach of confidentiality noted earlier this year: “Corruption anywhere raises serious questions as it inevitably undermines good governance. If occurring in international organizations, it would not only undermine good governance but also distort international competitiveness and subvert fair play…. To adapt a well-known dictum, sunlight is the best disinfectant for corruption.”

Mr. Bin Hammam’s banning and Sheikh Salman’s moves to squash further investigation of allegations of wrongdoing came amid the worst scandal in FIFA history with approximately half of the group’s leadership having been accused of corruption or penalized. FIFA has since introduced a number of reforms that have failed to remove the taint of an old-boys’ club that is accountable only to itself.

The payments disclosed by The Daily Telegraph are certain to be included in an investigation of the Qatari bid by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. Mr. Garcia is expected to submit his report later this year.

Qatar has consistently denied wrongdoing in its bid for the World Cup. It has also asserted that Mr. Bin Hammam despite his prominent position in world soccer was not involved in its bid. Qatar was believed to have been unhappy with Mr. Bin Hammam’s bid for the FIFA presidency because it feared that simultaneously winning the World Cup and the top position in world soccer might be too much.

Controversy over Qatar’s bid has been fuelled by a lack of transparency on the part of the Gulf state as well as envy and sour grapes on the part of competitors who committed far less funds to their World Cup bids.
The integrity of FIFA and AFC efforts to combat corruption and wrongdoing was called into question by Mr. Blatter himself when he effectively in February 2011 confirmed and justified an alleged Qatari transgression in its World Cup.

In a BBC interview, Mr. Blatter confirmed that Qatar and Spain and Portugal colluded to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids despite an earlier official FIFA investigation that concluded that there had been no vote swapping. Mr. Blatter went on to effectively whitewash the alleged violation of FIFA bidding rules.

“I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar,” the Daily Telegraph quoted Mr. Blatter as telling the BBC. “But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side.”

The alleged deal between Qatar and Spain and Portugal is believed to have involved seven of the 22 FIFA executive committee votes in the December 2010 awarding of 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the 2018 tournament to Russia, The Iberian bid won seven votes in two rounds of voting before it was eliminated while Qatar won with 14 votes.

The risks that governance of world soccer will be called into question by the new revelations of questionable payments by Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Warner were enhanced by the fact that groups like FIFA and the AFC no longer fully control the issue.

Well-placed sources said that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating Mr. Warner, including his relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam and the Qatari bid. The sources said that one of Mr. Warner’s sons was cooperating with the inquiry.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

FIFA reaffirms its role as pillar of established order


By James M. Dorsey

A recent visit by world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter to the Middle East spotlighted the group’s role as a pillar of the existing political and football governance order under the guise of a fictional separation between sports and politics rather than a force for greater transparency and accountability.

To be sure, Mr. Blatter’s support during his visit of Israeli Football Association (IFA) chief Avi Luzon upheld the principle of a ban on government interference in the affairs of national soccer associations. It also demonstrated that it is a principle that works to some degree in functioning democracies but becomes a farce in autocracies where governments control governance of the game with or without the façade of formal elections.

The main thrust of Mr. Blatter’s visit was to ease Israeli restrictions that hamper Palestinian soccer. Nevertheless, his thinly veiled threat that the IFA would be suspended and the Israeli national team banned from international competitions put a halt to calls by Israeli culture and sport minister Limor Livnat for Mr. Luzon’s resignation because of an alleged conflict of interest. A committee appointed by Mr. Livnat demanded Mr. Luzon’s resignation of Luzon on the grounds that his affiliation with soccer club Maccabi Petah Tikva was in conflict with his position as head of the IFA.

Mr. Livnat’s gunning for Mr. Luzon was no doubt politically motivated. Mr. Luzon chaired Maccabi prior to become IFA president but still attends the club’s games. Nevertheless, what Mr. Blatter’s support did not do was ensure an independent investigation into the allegation that would have been in line with best practice rather than uphold soccer governance’s policing of itself. That policing mechanism is fundamentally flawed witness the massive corruption scandals that have rocked world soccer in the last three years.

By the same token, FIFA has effectively been a pillar of autocracy in the Middle East and North Africa by seldom intervening in a world in which soccer associations are controlled by the ruler’s pawns or members of ruling families. In doing so, it has allowed autocrats to control the only non-religious institution that provides a venue for protest in the absence or advance of a popular revolt.

The mosque and the soccer pitch constitute the two venues where autocrats cannot simply crackdown on protesters because of the fact that football is the one thing that evokes the kind of deep-seated emotion that religion does and the sheer number of people involved in a soccer-crazy part of the world.

Beyond the key role that militant soccer fans played in successful anti-autocratic revolts like the overthrow in 2011 of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, the soccer pitch has become a venue of protest in a host of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco and Algeria.

Underlying FIFA’s failure to enforce best practice and its non-interference in government manipulation is the fictional notion that politics and sports do not and should not mix. Nothing could be further from the truth irrespective of whether in a democracy or an autocratic system. One just needs to look at the composition of the FIFA executive board or the International Olympic Council as recently highlighted by investigative German sports journalist Jens Weinreich.

Greater transparency and accountability as well as the enabling of powerful international sports associations to live up to their lofty principles and values would be significantly enhanced by recognizing reality for what it is: sports and politics are inextricably intertwined. Denial of this fact of life undermines and lacks credibility. 

That sports and politics are intertwined is evident at every twist of the road from the direct involvement of rulers, politicians and governments in the boards and executive committees of regional and international sports associations to the use of mega events by nations and governments to the role that global governing bodies play in the legitimization of rulers. Recognizing that reality would open the door to enforcing a charter or code of conduct that would govern the relationship of sports and politics. That is of course the one thing that neither politics nor the existing sports governance structure does not want.


James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

New AFC president sets about reform as battle for change looms


Sepp Blatter and Sheikh Salman

By James M. Dorsey

A Singapore-based sports marketing company is at the center of a battle for the future of reform within world soccer days after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), wracked by two years of scandal over ousted president Mohammed Bin Hammam’s management of the group, elected a new head to complete his term.

The newly elected president, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Bahrain Football Association, has little time to implement promised reforms aimed at ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance within the AFC. With less than two years before regularly scheduled presidential elections, Sheikh Salman has inherited an organization that has yet to prove its commitment to change.

“It’s a tough job. There is a lot of baggage but he has got to do it. It has to be transparency in deeds, not in words. Anything that is not transparent has to be implemented. Otherwise, he won’t make it in 2015,” a source close to the AFC said. The source was referring to the 2015 election when many expect a strong East Asian candidate to compete with hopefuls from the Middle East who dominated this week’s poll.

The difficulties Sheikh Salman, who is supported by world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter, faces were evident at this week’s AFC Congress. The congress defeated a number of motions that would have obstructed reform and limited an evaluation of the group’s past financial and commercial management.

The defeat of the motions prompted Seamus O’Brien, the founder and CEO of Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG), whose eight-year, $1 billion commercial rights agreement with the AFC is at the center of the group’s evaluation of the Bin Hammam era, to walk out of the congress, according to sources close to the AFC.

While pledging to work with WSG “towards enhancing marketing opportunities and develop the AFC brand further through this association,” Sheikh Salman also promised to report by the time FIFA holds its congress at the end of May on the status of the company’s agreement with the AFC.

Sources close to the AFC said that the litmus test of Sheikh Salman’s resolve would be whether he acts on the recommendations of an internal audit conducted last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which include seeking legal counsel to ascertain whether the AFC can bring civil or criminal charges against Mr. Bin Hammam and whether it can renegotiate or cancel its controversial agreement with WSG. WSG last year initiated legal proceedings against this reporter in a bid to gain disclosure of sources.

The PwC report charged that Mr. Bin Hammam had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account and raised questions about the negotiation and terms of the WSG contract. Mr. Bin Hammam was last year banned for life from involvement in soccer by FIFA on charges of multiple conflicts of interest that contradicted the group’s code of ethics.

In a further disclosure of his plans, Sheikh Salman told Reuters that he would make creation of an AFC ethics committee a priority. "If there are any wrongdoings by some, there has to be a tool to have a watchdog on everybody including the president,” he said.

Beyond obstacles likely to be put up by associates of Mr. Bin Hammam within the AFC, Sheikh Salman will have to operate in an environment in which resistance to reform appears to be growing. In a statement that took many by surprise, Mr. Blatter declared at the congress in Kuala Lumpur: "This is the last term, not of office, but of reform."

The FIFA president appeared to be countering expectations that he would step down when his term ends in 2015 and reinforced doubts about his sincerity about reform despite the fact that more than a quarter of his executive committee as well as FIFA’s honorary president have been forced to resign or has been suspended because of allegations of wrong doing and corruption.

A recent study based on comparison to best practices established by the International Red Cross, the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Soccer Association concluded that FIFA has so far failed to introduce a host of reforms, including enhanced financial governance and anti-corruption controls, a state-of-the-art anti-corruption compliance program, transformation of the ethics committee into an independent investigative body, establishment of a committee to determine executives’ and senior staffs’ salaries and benefits, creation of an election campaign finance system that bars private funding, and limitations on executives’ terms in office.”

Sheikh Salman has further been dogged by his failure to stand up for Bahraini national soccer team players who were arrested, publicly denounced, tortured and charged for taking part in anti-government demonstrations two years ago during a popular uprising that was brutally squashed.  The charges were later dropped under pressure from FIFA.

Sheikh Salman has evaded the issue arguing that football and politics are separate and that he had not violated FIFA or AFC rules, but has refused to address the moral issues involved. While restricted by being a member of a royal family that is dominated by hard liners, the fact that the government’s own inquiry into the suppression of the revolt admitted to wrongdoing by security forces, including torture, would have given him the leeway to be less categorical in addressing the issue.

In the latest twist, Sheikh Salman charged that an unidentified government was behind the accusations against him, that also included interference in the election on his behalf by the powerful-Kuwaiti led Olympic Council of Asia. He said an independent commission would be set up to look into political interference – a fact that is inevitable in the Gulf where soccer associations are controlled directly or indirectly by ruling royal families. “I don't think that I'd like in 2015 that we go through an election where we see all this happening,” Sheikh Salman said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Asian soccer elects controversial Bahraini as president



By James M. Dorsey

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has elected a prominent Bahraini soccer executive to complete the term of ousted president Mohammed Bin Hammam in a poll that has been marred by allegations of interference and controversy over the candidates’ track records.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Football Association, also defeated his Qatari rival, Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Gulf state’s 2022 World Cup organizing committee, 28 to 18 in an election to fill Mr. Bin Hammam’s seat on the executive committee of world soccer body FIFA. The disgraced Qatari national was banned for life from involvement in soccer by FIFA because of multiple violations of its code of ethics.

Sheikh Salman’s sweeping of 33 of the 46 AFC member association votes in the presidential election and his FIFA nomination constitute a stunning success for himself following his narrow defeat by Mr. Bin Hammam in a 2009 election for the FIFA seat as well as for his main supporter, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) headed by former Kuwaiti government minister Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.

Sheikh Salman was the only candidate with no association with Mr. Bin Hammam and as a result the most likely to counter the significant influence the Qatari is still believed to wield in Asian soccer. . “The member of associations want to move on from the Mohammed Bin Hammam era,” a source close to the AFC said.
Sheikh Salman and Mr. Bin Hammam fought a bitter battle in 2009 for the FIFA executive committee seat and FIFA earlier this week warned AFC members of consorting with Mr. Bin Hammam who was accused by the OAC of campaigning on behalf of Mr. Al Serkal.

The Bahraini defeated Yousuf al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates, who unlike Sheikh Salman campaigned on a detailed platform that promised to address mismanagement of the AFC’s financial and commercial affairs revealed in an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi, who has successfully fended off past allegations of wrongdoing.

Mr. Al Serkal, who repeatedly denounced the OAC’s alleged interference in the election but has been silent on alleged campaigning by Mr. Bin Hammam on his behalf, garnered seven votes while Mr. Makudi won six. A fourth candidate, Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej of Saudi Arabia, withdrew from the race on the eve of the election

Addressing the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur after his victory, Sheikh Salman promised change. "We need complete reforms, what we need is an AFC where decision makers are accountable. Clean up the past and turn the page for the future, restore transparency and integrity," he said in his most explicit remarks on the issue to date.

One litmus test of Sheikh Salman’s resolve will be whether he acts on the recommendations of the PwC report which include seeking legal counsel to ascertain whether the AFC can bring civil or criminal charges against Mr. Bin Hammam and whether it can renegotiate or cancel its controversial $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG). WSG last year initiated legal proceedings against this reporter in a bid to gain disclosure of and intimidate sources and squash reporting.

Sources close to the AFC said Sheikh Salman would have to deliver. “He has no choice. The PwC report is one important test. His election could be a step forward. We’ll see what he does,” one source said. The sources said an ordinary AFC congress scheduled for Friday where he is expected to be pressed on the issue of reform would be Sheikh Salman’s first trial of fire.

The electoral results mirrors the balance of power in the Gulf where Bahrain and Kuwait are much more closely aligned with Saudi Arabia than Qatar that has been charting in foreign policy and projection of soft power a course of its own.

Sheikh Salman has been dogged by allegations that his office identified athletes, including players for the Bahrain nation soccer team, who were arrested for their participation in anti-government protests two years ago, tortured and charged. Sheikh Salman, a member of the Bahraini royal family, has refused to denounce the alleged abuses of human rights or to discuss the allegations against him. He has said that there was no reason to apologize to the players because it was an issue for politicians, not his soccer federation.

Bahraini human rights groups campaigned against his candidacy. Two of the players, brothers Mohammed and Alaa Hubail, accused Sheik Salman of abandoning them. They said they had received no apology or compensation from the Bahrain football association for the months of alleged mistreatment. “We are his responsibility and people like him should solve the problem, not ignore it. I have a lot of anger. I really miss playing in my team and for Bahrain,” Mohammed Hubail told The Associated Press.

A third player, Sayed Mohamed Adnan, speaking to Associated Press in a separate interview, said that "some people sadly want to end my career because of their belief that I am for this and against that. I love Bahrain. Playing in the national team of my country is a great honor. I would love to do it any time. I would do it without hesitation."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter described the Bahraini’s victory as “a historical day because it is a day of election, a day of election in your confederation that has been in a difficult situation during the past two years.” Acknowledging that Sheikh Salman would have limited time as he will only serve until 2015 when Mr. Bin Hammam’s term would have ended and new elections are due, Mr. Blatter added: “You have two more years to put your house in order."

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Trade unions call on FIFA to deprive Qatar of World Cup



By James M. Dorsey

International trade unions have called on world soccer body FIFA to deprive Qatar of its right to host the 2022 World Cup because it has failed to end what they term 21st century slavery and adopt international labor standards for the Gulf state’s more than one million foreign workers.

In a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter dated April 16, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow asserted that discussions with Qatari authorities since FIFA awarded Qatar the World Cup in a controversial December 2010 vote have produced no results.

Ms Burrow said the ITUC had obtained a copy of a Charter for Migrant Workers that was drafted by Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee. She said the trade union was disappointed by the drafting process in which the committee failed to consult unions as well as its content. Sources said the draft charter was continuously being revised.

In a press release, the ITUC, which refuses to publish the draft charter, charged that it “shows contradictions with Qatari law and fails to give workers any real rights or protection from slavery conditions.” ITUC did not detail the legal contradictions.

Speaking in a telephone interview, Ms Burrow said ITUC’s campaign to take the World Cup away from Qatar was an effort to “escalate pressure” on the Gulf state. She said the ITUC would consider ways of stepping up pressure on FIFA and Qatar if the soccer body failed to opt for a revote of the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar latest at its general assembly in Mauritius at the end of May.

“The government of Qatar has had two years to do two things: introduce freedom of association and the kafala (sponsorship) system that effectively mounts to 21st century slavery. The government has done nothing. How long are we supposed to wait and listen to the same things? Three years? Five years? Ms Burrow said. She was referring to the widely criticized sponsorship system common to various Gulf states that effectively deprives workers of their free choice and gives employees full control over their employees.

Ms Burrow asserted that “hundreds of workers are dying and thousands more are injured in Qatar” as a result of its failure to adhere to international labour standards. “FIFA must act now- the longer the delay, the more workers will suffer and die,” she said.

The union official said the demand to deprive Qatar of the World Cup was boosted by the corruption scandals overshadowing FIFA and world soccer that have yet to produce evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Gulf state as well as debate on whether the tournament in Qatar should be moved to the winter months because of the region’s extreme summer heat.

The demand to deprive Qatar of the World Cup constitutes a change of union tactics. While the ITUC has threatened to call on its 175 million members in 153 countries to boycott Qatar at a time that it is expected to recruit up to a million additional workers to construct billions of dollars in World Cup-related infrastructure, it had initially said it would first put Qatari promises to the litmus test.

These promises included a legally non-binding oral pledge in November by Qatari Labour Minister Nasser bin Abdulla Alhumidi to effectively allow the formation of independent trade unions. "After a full and frank discussion, Qatar's labour minister assured me that if workers want to establish a union he will make sure that those who decide to join a union will not be punished. We will test him on that," Ms Burrow said at the time. ITUC officials said subsequently that they were preparing to establish a union in Qatar later this year.

To be sure, few analysts or labour and human rights activists expect Qatar to allow free and independent trade unions and to accept the principle of collective bargaining – the two major issues dividing Qatar and the union.

In a bid to fend off union demands, Qatar has moved to improve workers’ living and working conditions. It is seeking to ensure enforcement of safety and security standards, monitor on-time salary payments, reduce the number of workers living in one room from eight to four, and is building a city for workers that would include hitherto non-existent recreational facilities. It is also reviewing much criticized recruitment procedures that reinforce the sponsorship system and leave workers heavily indebted.

In a break with Gulf reluctance to give foreign nationals a stake in their host nations, Qatar’s soccer league said this month that it plans to create a league for un- and low-skilled guest workers who account for the majority of the country’s population. The decision follows this month’s successful organization of a soccer tournament for foreign workers deprived of relaxation and entertainment facilities. The league would involve 32 clubs, double the number that competed in the tournament.

In a region in which lop-sided demography is the elephant in the room when it comes to the future of the smaller states, Adil Ahmad who was identified by a Gulf newspaper as executive director of the Qatar Stars League (QSL) was quoted as saying in what would be an almost revolutionary statement that the idea of the foreign workers’ league was “to give low-income workers a sense of belonging in the country they serve.” Hani Taleb Ballan, the QSL deputy director was quoted as saying that  the league would workers give “a fair opportunity to enjoy the life they had in their countries of origin in Asia and Africa”.

In an email, the QSL denied that Mr. Ahmed was a QSL employee or had any authority to speak on beahlf of the League. "He has no business within the Qatar Stars League and therefore cannot be quoted as a member of the QSL's upper management," the email said. The QSL also denied that Mr. Ballan had commented on the issue.

Qatar University sociologist Kaltham Al Al-Ghanim recently called on the country’s sports clubs to set up branches in the capital’s Industrial Zone where many of foreign workers are housed “to channel their energy to productive avenues and hunt for sporting talent.” She cautioned that if foreign workers were allowed to “live on the social fringes, the danger is they would take to illegal activities and emerge as a threat to social security.” Ms. Al-Ghanim argued further that this would offer Qatari clubs an opportunity to spot local talent.

Smaller Gulf states whose nationals constitute a minority of the population have until now gone out of their way to ensure that foreigners have no sense of belonging out of fear that this would encourage them to stand up for their rights.

Critics of the ITUC’s demand to deprive Qatar of the World Cup charged that the union was being sensationalist and that there was still room for negotiation. “The ITUC makes the situation look a lot simpler than it is. The situation is not black and white. They are being sensationalist,” said an independent labor analyst.

The critics charged that the ITUC’s demand robbed it of the leverage it had obtained with the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. Human rights groups have long criticized Qatar and other Gulf states for their labor practices. But unlike the ITUC they never had more than moral leverage. Qatar’s dependence on foreign labor for its World Cup infrastructure enhances the ITUC’s power given that it in contrast to the human rights activists can mobilize millions of people.

“What happens to the workers if Qatar loses the World Cup? The ITUC loses its bargaining chip. Moreover, they are campaigning for taking away the World Cup even before the bids for construction of stadiums have been awarded. Qatar’s construction boom will continue with or without the World Cup. Even if they lose those workers, others will come. It’s the market’s push and pull factor. If the Nepalese don’t come, the Bangladeshis will. If the Bangladeshis don’t come, the Vietnamese will and if the Vietnamese don’t come, the Chinese will,” the analyst said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog

Saturday, January 26, 2013

FIFA reviews Qatar’s World Cup bid




By James M. Dorsey

World soccer body FIFA has opened an inquiry into potential wrongdoing in Qatar’s successful but controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

“As has been publicly announced, certain allegations regarding events surrounding the bidding for the World Cup 2018 and 2022 were referred to the ethics committee by FIFA following media reports. We intend to conduct a thorough review of those allegations, including the evidentiary basis for and credibility of any allegations of individual misconduct,” said FIFA ethic investigator Michael J. Garcia in a statement.

In an email in response to this posting, FIFA drew in an email a distinction between a review of allegations and an investigation. It said the review was intended to determine whether there were grounds for an investigation.

The outcome of the review will be widely seen as a test of FIFA's willingness to thoroughly investigate allegations and truly tackle fundamental governance issues against a widely held perception that the soccer body has yet to demonstrate real sincerity. Few believe that FIFA, which will also look at Russia’s winning of the right to host the 2018 tournament, would want to risk a either country being deprived of the honor.

FIFA's effort would have to further address the worst albeit politically loaded corruption scandal in the history of world soccer in which the bids are inextricably meshed as part of its undertaking to convince its critics.

The review comes after more than a year of legal and political battle that late last year led to the final demise of Mohammed Bin Hammam, the highest placed Qatari national who was ultimately stripped of his membership in FIFA’s executive council as well as his presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and banned for life by FIFA from involvement in soccer.  

The allegations of corruption and bribery against Mr. Bin Hammam raise questions about the degree and nature of his involvement in the Qatari bid.

Qatar has so far successfully denied allegations that its bid may have involved corrupt practices. And to be fair, much of the Qatari efforts, including funding facilities in home countries of FIFA executive committee members and friendlies of some of their national teams, do not violate the world soccer body’s bid rules, but raise questions about the integrity of those guidelines.

Qatar has consistently denied that Mr. Bin Hammam was involved in its World Cup bid. While it seems strange that the highest Qatari soccer official in world soccer who enjoyed the backing of Qatari emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at least until he announced that he would challenge FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the group’s presidential election, that may be true for the final phase of the Qatari bid. Mr. Bin Hammam’s presidential challenge sparked the allegations that ultimately led to his downfall.

To some degree, the interests of Qatar and Mr. Bin Hammam diverged with the announcement of his presidential bid. Mr. Bin Hammam is believed to have felt that an almost simultaneous Qatari winning of World Cup hosting rights and the FIFA presidency may have been too much for world soccer to stomach. As a result, he may have not been really involved in the final phases of the Qatari bid.

That leaves nonetheless the question open of his involvement prior to his presidential campaign against the background of multiple allegations and questions about bribery and corruption in his election campaign as well as the financial management of the AFC. While there seems little doubt that Mr. Bin Hammam violated international standards of financial good governance, his actions, with the possible exception of his negotiation on behalf of the AFC of a controversial $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) seem largely the result of sticking to a back-slapping way of doing business in the Gulf that is not internationally accepted rather than greed.

Whether that applies also to the WSG deal will only be clear once Mr. Bin Hammam and WSG justify the negotiation procedure for the agreement that did not involve a tender as well as payments made to Mr. Bin Hammam, according to an internal AFC audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), by a WSG shareholder in advance of the signing of the contract. WSG, which has so far refrained from commenting on much of the PwC audit, including the payments, has initiated legal proceedings against this reporter in a bid to squash reporting and intimidate sources.

While FIFA may steer clear of a renewed look at Mr. Bin Hammam’s AFC dealings in its investigation of the World Cup bids, the ball will be in the court of the AFC once it has elected in April a new executive committee that will be expected to demonstrate that it is making a clean break with the past.

Qatar has paved the ground for separating inquiries into its bid from Mr. Bin Hammam’s dealings by pressuring him late last year to give up his fight to maintain his position in world soccer. Mr. Bin Hammam’s banning by FIFA coincided with his resignation from his posts in FIFA and the AFC.

Nonetheless, the FIFA inquiry makes Qatar more vulnerable to criticism of its hosting of the world’s largest sporting tournament, including the rights and working conditions of the country’s foreign labor force, who constitute a majority of the population as well as human rights following the sentencing to life in prison in November of a poet for a poem that was critical of Sheikh Hamad and the royal family.

Qatar has in recent months demonstrated that it is not insensitive to criticism and foreign pressure. In a bid to fend off a boycott campaign of the World Cup by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which has 175 million members in 153 countries, Qatar has agreed that it would not penalize workers who form independent unions. The ITUC plans to put that promise to the test later this year.

Similarly, in a rare concession to human rights groups, Qatar recently backed away from deporting to Saudi Arabia a dissident Saudi diplomat. Instead, the diplomat, Mishal bin Zaar Hamad al-Mutiry, who accused his government of involvement in terrorism, was allowed to go into exile in Morocco.

“The spotlight shone on this case resulted in the Qatari authorities curtailing their plans to deport Mishal al-Mutiry long enough for him and his family to leave of their own accord, and the assistance of the NHRC was crucial to ensuring they could travel,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bin Hammam banning puts AFC marketing contract in the firing line

Banned for life: Mohammed Bin Hammam
By James M. Dorsey

A controversial $1 billion commercial agreement between the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and a Singapore-based sports marketing company moved this week into the firing line with world soccer body FIFA’s decision to ban its executive committee member and suspended AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam from involvement in soccer for life.
FIFA said Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, had been banned because of “conflicts of interest” during his AFC presidency. Sources said the conflicts included payments totaling $14 million made to him by one of World Sports Group’s (WSG) shareholders in the walk-up to the signing of the $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) and his alleged use of an AFC sundry account as his personal account.

The payments and the issue of the sundry account were first revealed this summer in an internal audit of Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the AFC conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The AFC last month side stepped PwC’s advice that it seek legal counsel to see whether it could file criminal charges against Mr. Bin Hammam and renegotiate or cancel the WSG contract. It opted instead to hold presidential and executive committee member elections in April in which the Qatari national would not be allowed to stand for office.

“The onus lies on the next president to challenge the WSG contract that is largely seen as a bad deal for Asian football. The next AFC president should have the strength to do this right,” one source said.
WSG has taken legal action against this writer for reporting on advice rendered to the AFC prior to the signing of the MRA that cautioned against the signing of a master rights rather than a service provider agreement that industry sources said would have been more advantageous to the soccer group. The legal action is designed to squash media reporting, intimidate sources and stop leaks.

In a statement, FIFA said the decision by its independent adjudicator to ban Mr. Bin Hammam was based on a report by FIFA ethics investigator Michael J. Garcia that charged him with “repeated violations” of the FIFA Code of Ethics with regard to conflicts of interest.
“That report showed repeated violations of Article 19 (Conflict of interest) of the FIFA Code of Ethics, edition 2012, of Mohammed Bin Hammam during his terms as AFC President and as member of the FIFA Executive Committee in the years 2008 to 2011, which justified a life-long ban from all football-related activity,” FIFA said.

The AFC signed its agreement with WSG in 2009.
FIFA said its ban followed a December 15 letter from Mr. Bin Hammam in which he resigned from his post with immediate effect. Mr. Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has vigorously fought for more than a year against allegations of bribery, financial mismanagement and potential corruption.

Sources said Mr. Bin Hammam wrote his letter following a meeting between FIFA President Sepp Blatter and senior Qatari officials on the side lines of last week’s Doha Goals conference in the Qatari capital. Some sources said the ban would make it more difficult for Qatar to distance itself from Mr. Bin Hammam. Qatar has repeatedly said that Mr. Bin Hammam was not involved in its successful campaign to win the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
“It will become more and more difficult for Qatar to pretend that MBH (Mohammed Bin Hammam) was not involved in the bid process, that he did all this without the authorities, the Football Association etc knowing what he was doing. This fiction of Mohammed Bin Hammam independent of 2022 will unravel quickly” and implicate others, one source said.

Mr. Bin Hammam had been suspended by FIFA and the AFC since this summer pending investigation of the PwC report as well as charges that he had sought to bribe Caribbean soccer officials to support his failed challenge last year of Mr. Blatter in FIFA presidential elections.
The suspension was imposed after the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) overturned FIFA's earlier banning of Mr. Bin Hammam in relation to the Caribbean bribery charges on grounds of insufficient evidence. The court however went out of its way to make clear that its decision did not constitute an acquittal of Mr. Bin Hammam. It urged FIFA to conduct a better investigation and resubmit its case.

FIFA said last week that Mr. Garcia had dropped the Caribbean bribery charges because Mr. Garcia had not found new evidence to support the claim. Instead, the FIFA investigator focused on issues associated with Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of the AFC, including the PwC report.
Sources said that Mr. Garcia's report elaborated on the PwC assertions. "It is everything. The report was very detailed and very comprehensive and went beyond the PwC report," one source said.

The report concluded in no uncertain terms that Mr. Bin Hammam had used an AFC personal account as his personal account. Mr. Bin Hammam has reportedly countered that monies withdrawn from that account or used for personal expenses constituted repayment of monies he had advanced to the AFC to ensure its cash flow.
The audit, because of PwC’s limited mandate and limited resources that AFC made available, stopped short of drawing conclusions with regard to WSG but raised serious questions about the terms and negotiation of its marketing agreement, including the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam totaling $14 million by a WSG shareholder. The audit noted that the contract had not been put to tender and that it may be undervalued.

Referring to the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam by the WSG shareholder, the audit said: “It is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”
WSG has yet to comment publicly on the PwC report. However, in an August 28 letter to this reporter that first threatened legal action, WSG legal counsel Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA (master rights agreement) was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated.” Ms. McManus’s comments failed however to address the bulk of the concerns raised by PwC.

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

FIFA focuses on Bin Hammam’s management of the AFC after dropping bribery charges

Acquitted but not acquitted: Mohammed Bin Hammam
By James M. Dorsey
FIFA, world soccer body’s governing body, is focusing its investigation of suspended executive committee and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam on his management of the Asian body’s finances and his relationship to a Singapore-based sports marketing group. The focus follows submission of a report in which independent FIFA ethics investigator Michael J. Garcia dropped his enquiry into allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had sought to bribe Caribbean soccer officials.

Sources said the report that Mr. Garcia submitted to FIFA adjudicator Hans-Joachim Eckert included an internal audit of AFC finances and the group’s $1 billion marketing rights agreement (MRA) with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) as well as unspecified new information related to the audit.
“There was substantial new information that made those within AFC reformist camp more confident that FIFA would be able to nail Bin Hammam. People on the AFC executive committee are more or less giving up on him but are protecting their vested interests by teaming up,” one source said. “There are a number of people who came forward,” said another source.

In a meeting late last month, executive committee members effectively agreed to the chagrin of reformers to bury the audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in exchange for consensus on the holding of AFC presidential and executive committee election in April in which Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, would not be a candidate.
In anticipation of such a deal reformers engineered that responsibility of the AFC investigation based on the PwC audit was transferred from the Asian group to FIFA in advance of the executive committee meeting. The AFC enquiry was integrated into Mr. Garcia’s investigation of allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had last year tried to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials for his failed bid to challenge long-standing FIFA president Sepp Blatter in presidential elections.

Mr. Bin Hammam has vigorously denied the allegations. The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) earlier this year overturned FIFA’s banning for life of Mr. Bin Hammam from involvement in soccer because of the Caribbean allegations on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. The court however went out of its way to say that it did not believe that Mr. Bin Hammam was innocent and advised FIFA to conduct a more proper investigation.
Mr. Bin Hammam has since been suspended from his FIFA and AFC offices pending the outcome of the investigation of his management of the Asian body.

Sources as well as Mr. Bin Hammam’s lawyer, Eugene Gulland in an interview with The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Mr. Garcia had dropped the enquiry into the Caribbean affair on the grounds that he had not uncovered any new evidence.
"This investigation focused on events that took place at the Caribbean Football Union meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2011. With respect to the events at the CFU conference, the investigation uncovered no new material proof beyond the substantial evidence presented during the proceedings that culminated with the CAS decision vacating Mr Bin Hammam's ban. Accordingly, the Investigatory Chamber has closed this matter consistent with the CAS Panel's guidance regarding newly discovered evidence,” news reports quoted Mr. Garcia’s report as saying.

Mr. Gulland told the Journal that “we are vigorously challenging the provisional suspension. He said Mr. Bin Hammam was challenging his suspension pending the Asia-related investigation before CAS and Swiss courts.
Sources said Mr. Eckert, dependent on to what degree the reported new information adds to PwC’s assertion, could either pronounce on Mr. Bin Hammam’s fate or send the case back to Mr. Garcia for further investigation. Mr. Eckert has given Mr. Bin Hammam 45 days to respond to Mr. Garcia’s report.

The PwC report concluded in no uncertain terms that Mr. Bin Hammam had used an AFC personal account as his personal account. Mr. Bin Hammam has reportedly countered that monies withdrawn from that account or used for personal expenses constituted repayment of monies he had advanced to the AFC to ensure its cash flow. If so, the PwC assertions would amount to wrong administrative procedures rather than financial abuse.
The audit, because of PwC’s limited mandate and limited resources that AFC made available, stops short of drawing conclusions with regard to WSG but raises serious questions about the terms and negotiation of its marketing agreement, including payments to Mr. Bin Hammam totaling $14 million by a WSG shareholder in the walk-up to the signing of the contract.

PwC recommended in its audit that AFC seek legal advice to ascertain whether it could file criminal charges against Mr. Bin Hammam and cancel or renegotiate its WSG contract. “
The audit noted that the contract had not been put to tender and that it may be undervalued.

Referring to the payments to Mr. Bin Hammam by a WSG shareholder, the audit said: “It is highly unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”
WSG, which has taken legal action against this reporter in order to squash media reporting and silence sources, has yet to comment publicly on the PwC report. However, in an August 28 letter to this reporter that first threatened legal action, WSG legal counsel Stephanie McManus asserted that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA (master rights agreement) was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated.” Ms. McManus’s comments failed however to address the bulk of the concerns raised by PwC.

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

 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Agreement with UEFA bolsters reformists in troubled Asian soccer body

The gold standard in soccer governance

By James M. Dorsey

This week's signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and its European counterpart, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), potentially boosts an uphill battle by reformers to strengthen governance in the AFC, a deeply divided and troubled organization.

The agreement also bolsters efforts to weaken the influence within the Asian soccer body of its president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, a 63--year old Qatari national who has been suspended for more than a year pending investigation of alleged bribery and corruption in the worst scandal in the history of world soccer. Mr. Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied the charges.

World soccer governing body FIFA, which also suspended Mr. Bin Hammam as a member of its executive committee, announced last week that its independent investigator, former New York prosecutor Michael J. Garcia, had completed his enquiry into the charges.

Mr. Garcia was investigating allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had bribed Caribbean soccer officials to enlist their support for his failed bid to challenge FIFA president Sepp Blatter in last year’ presidential election as well as the Qatari’s financial management of the AFC.

FIFA said that Mr. Garcia’s “final report, together with the investigation files, would be submitted to the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee for examination. On the same day, all of the documents were sent by Garcia to the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert,” FIFA said. The soccer body said Mr. Eckert had “deemed that the final report was complete and decided to proceed with adjudicatory proceedings in this case.”

The AFC’s memorandum of understanding with UEFA is part of a reformist effort to put an end to what at best can be described as mismanagement within the Asian group that has been progressing on the Leninist principle of two steps forward, one step backwards.

In a statement, the AFC noted that UEFA, the regional association widely viewed as the gold standard in good governance in world soccer, would assist the Asian body in "marketing, legal and social responsibility matters apart from promotion of good governance principles in the game," the issues it is struggling most with.

Opponents of Mr. Bin Hammam say the suspended soccer boss’s influence is greatest in those parts of the AFC that deal with marketing, finance and legal issues. The AFC last month effectively fired its marketing director Satoshi Saito, who was seconded for two years to the group by the Japanese Football Association (JFA), one of Mr. Bin Hammam’s staunchest critics. Mr. Saito, the sources said, had long been barred from meetings with the Asian group’s influential marketing contractor, the Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) on the grounds that "the company holds all plenipotentiary rights to AFC's marketing rights."

The AFC statement quoted Acting President Zhang Jilong as saying the agreement with UEFA constituted a milestone in the history of Asian football. "It is a historical day for Asian football as we enter into the partnership with UEFA. They have set the standards in world football and we are happy to share their knowledge to develop the Asian game,”

Sources said Mr. Garcia's investigation report was believed to include a damning internal audit of Mr. Bin Hammam's financial management of the AFC that asserted that he had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account. The report also raised serious questions about the propriety of WSG’s $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) negotiated by Mr. Bin Hammam.

WSG has taken legal steps against this reporter in a bid to force him to disclose sources for his reporting, squash media reporting and intimidate sources.

The company has so far refrained from public comment on the audit that also raised questions about $14 million in payments to Mr. Bin Hammam by one of its shareholders in the run-up to the signing of the agreement.

However, in an August 28 letter to this reporter that first threatened legal action, WSG legal counsel Stephanie McManus said that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in suggesting that the MRA was undervalued. They have neither considered the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances in which it was negotiated.” Ms. McManus did not comment on questions raised by the audit about the payments as well as the negotiating procedure and terms of the contract.

The sources said a deal forged in late November during an AFC executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur between Mr. Bin Hammam's supporters and several AFC member association led by Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat and opposed by reformists involved the holding of new presidential and executive committee[jmd1]  elections in exchange for burying the report at least temporarily.

The sources said the deal effectively had little substance given that the AFC had surrendered control of the investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam s well as his relationship to WSG to Mr. Garcia prior to the executive committee meeting. They said cooperation with UEFA strengthened efforts to clean-up and reform the AFC and would ultimately have to include an enquiry into WSG's contractual relationship with the Asian body.

The audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of the AFC urged the soccer body to seek legal advice related to Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the group as well as to the possibility of renegotiating or cancelling the WSG contract.

The sources said an enquiry into the contract was unlikely before the AFC’s April elections but that the question was not if but when it would occur.

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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

AFC focusses on election rather than reform

Still pulling strings: suspended AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam

By James M. Dorsey
In 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.

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bin Hammam and AFC future on the line in KL (JMD quoted on AP)

JOHN DUERDEN, Associated Press
Published 11:34 p.m., Tuesday, November 27, 2012
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A divided Asian Football Confederation gathers for its annual awards ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday amid an increasingly toxic atmosphere, with suspended chief Mohamed bin Hammam calling those in charge puppets and claiming he has the support of most AFC national associations.
 
On Thursday, Asian football will laud its player, coach and team of 2012 but beyond the glitter and red carpet will be more intense political maneuvers, as the AFC's decision-making Executive Committee meets to discuss the bin Hammam imbroglio that has now dragged on for 18 months.
 
Bin Hammam, who took the post in 2002, was found guilty of vote-buying during his challenge against FIFA president Sepp Blatter in May 2011 and FIFA's Ethics Committee suspended him from all football activity for life.
 
After an appeal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that ban in July. Bin Hammam, 63, was subsequently banned temporarily by both FIFA and AFC as allegations of financial irregularities during his nine-year tenure are investigated by the world governing body.
 
The Qatari has repeatedly denied all charges, claiming that there are forces at work both in Asia and elsewhere out to get him.
 
"I believe (my suspension) causes huge damage to the AFC," bin Hammam told Associated Press by email. "The AFC is no longer its own master. It is now controlled partly by FIFA and partly by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
 
"Unfortunately, there are those who are currently in power and decision-making positions in AFC who are no more than puppets and blind followers of either FIFA or the OCA. These people believe that FIFA and the OCA are going to either put them in a more powerful position or consolidate their current position."
 
Zhang Jilong, a Chinese executive, took the role of acting president of the AFC following bin Hammam's suspension. Zhang had remained tight-lipped about his suspended predecessor for much of his 18 months in the job but broke that silence in October when he accused the Qatari and his lawyer of using intimidating tactics against former colleagues.
 
"Their plan is intimidate and create technical legal issues and objections in the hope that the more serious allegations of secret commissions, bribery, corruption and other wrong-doings are never exposed to the light of day," Zhang wrote in a letter to AFC member associations.
Bin Hammam believes however that he has the support of the majority.
 
"I will say that in the whole of Asia, I can identify only around five to six member associations and officials who are actively working against me. Particularly I will not accuse the Chinese FA of any attempts to damage my reputation or that they are part of group of people who are responsible for what I am going through today.
 
"I do not believe that other federations, other than Japan in the East, are playing any role in this scheme to remove me. The majority of the member associations are either with me or have sympathy for me."
 
James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, argues that Thursday's meetings will be crucial in determining the AFC's future.
 
"Bin Hammam certainly continues to wield significant influence within the AFC and indeed enjoys considerable support," said Dorsey.
 
"Whether that support constitutes a majority of associations will be clear at this week's AFC Executive Committee. A decision to delay acting on an internal audit that questions bin Hammam's management of the AFC and suggests looking at legal action would mean that his support in the group is sufficient to enforce his will. The opposite would mean that his considerable support is not enough to stop the group from acting against him."
 
Bin Hammam has insisted in private that he is not interested in returning to his former post and is interested only in clearing his name.
 
When the situation is finally resolved, an election for a permanent president will be held. Zhang is expected to stand.
 
"A number of bin Hammam opponents see Zhang as the man who will be able to heal wounds in a post-bin Hammam era," said Dorsey. "Although he was head of the finance committee under Bin Hammam, Zhang has sided with the reformers within AFC . he is betting on the fact that bin Hammam will ultimately lose his battle or that even if achieves some measure of victory he is too damaged to return as head of the AFC."
 
Rivals from the western side of Asia would include Yousuf Al Serkel, president of the United Arab Emirates FA, and his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Salman of Bahrain. A west versus east election, often a source of division in Asian football, could further increase tension levels.
 
"Each time during the elections, I see this east-west tension rearing its ugly head,"said bin Hammam. "Both sides are guilty of acting in a foul manner, encouraging this East-West tension so that they themselves gain during the election. This is very unfortunate as when this happens, we as members of the football family are allowing outsiders to take advantage of us.
 
"Throughout my career at the AFC, I have ignored the political side and focused completely 100% on the development of the game and fair play."