Appointments of new soccer czars in Asia and the Caribbean alongside new corruption-related investigations of three executive committee members of world soccer body FIFA will serve as litmus tests of the organization’s sincerity in resolving the worst crisis in its 107-year history.
To demonstrate its sincerity, FIFA will also have to demonstrate that penalties issued against officials penalized for corruption or improper behaviour are implemented.
That is in question after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) recently appointed two banned African executive committee members, Slim Aloulou of Tunisia, and Amadou Diakite of Mali, to several of its commissions. The two were banned from involvement in soccer for up to three years for having accepted bribes to favour of Morocco’s failed 2010 World Cup bid.
The need to appointment new soccer czars in Asia and the Caribbean is one outcome of this weekend’s banning for life from involvement in soccer of Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari FIFA vice president and head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Former AFC president Peter Velappan described Mr. Bin Hammam in an interview with Associated Press as “the architect of bribery and corruption.”
Mr. Bin Hammam has vowed to fight the ban in what promises to be a long and messy legal battle, making it even more important for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to leave no doubt his declared zero tolerance policy towards corruption has teeth.
Mr. Blatter, who was re-elected last month for a fourth consecutive term has some of former US President Ronald Reagan’s Teflon qualities. He has so far emerged unscathed from the scandal enveloping FIFA, in which in the last nine months virtually half of its 24-member executive committee, including himself, has been tainted by allegations of improper behavior or corruption.
Hours after the ruling against him on Saturday in Zurich, Mr. Bin Hammam, who has denied any wrongdoing, released on his website a private letter to him from Blatter that was written on the 10th anniversary of Blatter’s ascension to the FIFA presidency. “Without you, dear Mohamed, none of this would ever have been possible.” Mr. Blatter writes in a sentence highlighted by Mr. Bin Hammam. Beneath that letter Mr. Bin Hammam adds: “This is only the battle, not the war.”
Mr. Bin Hammam was banned for bribing officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) at a meeting in Trinidad to secure their support for his failed campaign for the FIFA presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy, paving the way for Mr. Blatter’s unchallenged re-election.
FIFA this week sent summons to three executive committee members - Hany Abou Rida of Egypt, Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka and Worawi Makudi of Thailand - who allegedly accompanied him on his trip to Trinidad.
FIFA allowed former vice president and head of North and Central American and Caribbean soccer to evade investigation and condemnation by allowing him to resign his posts “with a presumption of innocence.” Mr. Warner, who arranged Mr. Bin Hammam’s meeting in Trinidad, was roundly condemned in the FIFA ethics committee inquiry conducted by the company of former FBI head Louis Freih that constituted the basis for the banning of the Qatari.
With Bahrain Football Association (BFA) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa widely viewed as the front runner to succeed Mr. Bin Hammam in Asia, the AFC and FIFA could be in a difficult position.
Sheikh Khalifa’s election is likely to meet with a mixed reaction from Arab and Iranian football fans. The BFA has denied that Bahraini national team soccer players as well as soccer and other sports executives were penalized or disciplined for their participation in anti-government demonstrations earlier this year despite evidence to the contrary. Sheilk Khalifa’s election would be seen as FIFA and the AFC endorsing the BFA’s position.
That may be a controversy neither the AFC or FIFA wants at a moment that Asia together with Europe is also coping with match-fixing scandals in South Korea, Turkey and Finland linked to illegal betting in Southeast Asia.
Writing in The New York Times, the head of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble, wrote that public confidence in FIFA’s ability to police itself was at its lowest point ever but praised the steps undertaken by the organization, including the hiring of Chris Eaton, a former Interpol official, as its head of security.
To complicate things for the AFC, Mr. Bin Hammam has written a letter published on his blog to the AFC’s 46 member associations saying he will not resign his presidency because he is appealing FIFA’s “shameful decision” to ban him.
“It may take some time before I go through the appeal committee of FIFA and Court of Sports Arbitration and possibly other procedures. That means I will not render my resignation as AFC president and FIFA member representing Asia as far as the legal proceedings are continuing. I am appealing for your understanding and appreciation for my cause and reasons and looking for your support to me until I prove my innocence,” Mr. Bin Hammam said in his letter.
A statement by acting AFC president Zhang Jilong held out little hope that the organization would heed Mr. Bin Hammam’s call.
“This is a difficult period for us because Asian football is currently facing multiple challenges, the biggest of which is match-fixing. I am aware of the urgent need to provide a strong leadership that will work closely with the member associations towards creating a climate of trust and confidence. During my provisional presidency, I promise that AFC will govern the continent’s football affairs in complete transparency, fairness and harmony,” Mr. Jilong said.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer)