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Thursday, July 7, 2011

FIFA likely to pronounce Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam guilty of corruption

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam. (REUTERS photo)

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam. (REUTERS photo)
The ethics committee of world soccer body FIFA is likely to rule in two days of meeting later this month that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam conspired together with three other soccer officials to commit bribery, according to a report on the committee’s investigation that was sent to the four executives for comment.

“It appears rather compelling to consider that the actions of Mr. Bin Hammam constitute prima facie an act of bribery, or at least an attempt to commit bribery,” the 17-page report says. It describes former FIFA vice president and head of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean Jack Warner as “an accessory to corruption.”
The committee ruling could lead to Mr. Bin Hammam’s banning from involvement in professional soccer for life.

The committee suspended in late May Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner and two Caribbean Football Union (CFU) executives pending the outcome of its investigation. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy in FIFA presidential elections hours before the suspension in a move that paved the way for Sepp Blatter to be re-elected as head of FIFA unchallenged for a fourth term.

The ethics committee is scheduled to hold hearings on July 22 and 23 as well as review and disclose the findings of its enquiry that is part of the worst scandal to have rocked FIFA in its 107-year history. The committee will pass judgment on July 23.

Ten of FIFA’s 24 executive committee members have come under suspicion of corruption or improper behavior in the last year. Two members were banned last year following revelations by British newspaper The Sunday Times.

The committee has sent its report to Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner as well as the CFU officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, for their comment. Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner have denied the charges. Mr. Warner last month resigned from his positions as FIFA vice president and head of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, which led to FIFA halting the investigation against him.

Mr. Bin Hammam is accused of having bribed officials at a CFU meeting in Trinidad in May organized by Mr. Warner to ensure that they would support his presidential ambitions. The Qatari national, who played an important role in Qatar’s winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup, allegedly paid $40,000 in cash to 25 CFU members. Mr. Bin Hammam has said the payments were to cover the travel expense of CFU officials attending the meeting.

Mr. Bin Hammam’s likely demise is a blow to Qatar, which has denied allegations that it had bribed FIFA executive committee members to secure the hosting of the World Cup.

Mr. Blatter has so far rejected calls by a British parliament committee and the German football association that the bid process be investigated.

The British House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee said in a report earlier this week that it was appalled at the way FIFA had handled the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia. The FIFA executive committee awarded the tournaments to Russia and Qatar in votes on December 2 of last year. The committee was looking into soccer governance and the reasons why the English bid for the 2018 games failed.

The votes for the tournaments are linked because of allegations that Qatar and Spain and Portugal, who together were also bidding for 2018, had swapped votes. A FIFA investigation last year concluded that there was insufficient evidence for the alleged swap, but Mr. Blatter later acknowledged that it had occurred.

The Sunday Times, in a letter to the British parliament committee, asserted moreover that Qatar had paid $1.5 million each to two executive committee members to secure their votes.

Qatar’s successful bid has been controversial not only because of the corruption allegations but also because of the oil and gas-rich Gulf state’s high summer temperatures and lack of a soccer tradition. Qatar won its bid despite a report by a FIFA inspection team that raised questions about the effects of the summer heat.

The issue was revived this week at a Qatar Infrastructure Conference in London. Michael Beavon, a director of Arup Associates who helped develop the zero-carbon solar technology that will cool the 12 stadiums Qatar is building or upgrading for the tournament told the conference that FIFA could allow matches to be played over three 30-minute periods if temperatures in the stadiums became dangerously high for the players.

“There is a moderate risk of heat injury to the players between 24C-29C but if you go above that you have high and extreme risk of injury. The one thing FIFA do say, although it is for guidance, is if it’s 32C they will stop a match and play three 30-minute thirds rather than two 45-minute halves,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Beavon as saying.

“The reason would be to re-hydrate the players before they could carry on playing. That of course would play havoc with TV schedules and those kind of things. The commitment from Qatar was to provide conditions in the moderate band, so that matches would go ahead and be played as normal. Matches have to be played at an acceptable temperature and in safety so that FIFA do not intervene,” Mr. Beavon said.

FIFA has denied that it was considering allowing games to be played in three 30-minute rather than two 45-minute periods.

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