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Controversial Kuwait football official resigns from all FIFA positions
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, long seen as one of the most powerful men in international sport, has resigned from all his football positions, including the Council of world football governing body FIFA, after a new wave of corruption allegations.
The release of US Court documents in the wake of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) official Richard Lai pleading guilty to bribery led to Shiekh Ahmad being implicated.
Sheikh Ahmad, member of Kuwait’s ruling family, was not named but papers referred to someone who at “various times was a high-ranking official of FIFA, the Kuwait Football Association and the Olympic Council of Asia”.
The Kuwaiti denies any wrongdoing but has released a statement announcing he is stepping down from his various positions within the sport.
The statement advised “with regards to alleged illegal payments to Richard Lai, I can only refer to my previous statement and vigorously deny any wrongdoing.
“I intend to work with all relevant authorities to disprove these for me totally surprising allegations.
“However, I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC and FIFA congresses. Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of Fifa and the AFC for me to withdraw my candidacy for the Fifa council and resign from my current football positions.”
In spite of resigning from his roles in football, Sheikh Ahmad remains influential in Olympic circles. He heads up the Olympic Council of Asia and has done so since 1991, while he was instrumental in Thomas Bach’s International Olympic Committee Presidential campaign and that of Gianni Infantino for the FIFA presidency.
Lai, a senior figure at the AFC, was suspended by FIFA for 90 days on Friday after he pleaded guilty in a New York court to giving and taking bribes. Lai admitted taking more than US$950,000 in bribes. The AFC also placed a provisional suspension on him.
Lai’s case is particularly significant as it represents the first time the US-led investigation into football-related corruption has extended beyond the Americas. It is also the US Department of Justice’s first new guilty plea for a year, which suggests the inquiry is not being wound down, as some close observers have speculated.
Commenting on Sheikh Ahmad’s resignation, Asian football commentator James M. Dorsey, author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, writes that the Kuwaiti’s “decision to resign and not to run for re-election at this month’s FIFA congress in Bahrain puts an end to his effort to exploit his international sports stature to further his political ambitions in a bitter power struggle within Kuwait’s ruling family.
“(His) position ... allowed him to persuade the International Olympic Committee, of which he is a member, as well as virtually all international sports associations to suspend Kuwaiti membership as part of the Kuwaiti politician’s bid for power.
“Ahmad has long used his position to put his own men in office.”
Dorsey added “men like SheikhAhmad and AFC President Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa symbolise the intertwining of sports and politics. They are imperious, ambitious, power hungry products of autocracies who have worked assiduously to concentrate power in their hands and sideline critics clamouring for real reform.
“Hailing from countries governed by autocratic, hereditary leaders, they have been accused of being willing to occupy their seats of power at whatever price.
“Ambition, alleged corruption, and greed is their potential Achilles heel. That is what caused the demise in 2012 of Mohammed Bin Hammam, (the) Qatari national who headed the AFC and was a member of FIFA’s governing council. Bin Hammam was banned for life by FIFA from involvement in football on charges of ‘conflict of interest.’
“As world sport reverberates from Sheikh Ahmad’s resignation and considers the Kuwaiti’s future as an international sports governor, it will also have to question the mechanisms that allow men like this to rise.
“That would have to involve questioning the viability of maintaining the fiction of a separation of sports and politics.”
Images (from top): Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, and Sheikh Ahmad (left) with AFC President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (right).
3rd August 2016 - KUWAIT LOSES SWISS COURT CHALLENGE AGAINST IOC BAN
5th November 2015 - AFC PRESIDENT’S FIFA PRESIDENTIAL BID MIRED IN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
27th October 2015 - KUWAIT GETS IOC BAN FOR GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE
19th June 2015 - SOOSAY RESIGNS FROM ASIAN FOOTBALL CONFEDERATION
14th May 2015 - ASIAN FOOTBALL CONFEDERATION SUSPENDS GENERAL SECRETARY
18th April 2014 - SCANDAL-RIDDEN ASIAN FOOTBALL BODY STYMIES REFORM EFFORTS
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