Beyond the Pitch: World soccer’s political battles (WSG v JMD)

Anto of Beyond the Pitch and Change FIFA’s David Larkin discuss starting at minute 28:45 in this broadcast “the ongoing case of Mohammed Bin Hammam with the AFC in crosshairs, how this case could be a flashpoint that can be exploited by both Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini given their political connections and motivations as 2015 comes into view. We explore why Mohammed Bin Hammam is such an important figure, what his case tells us about sports governance and sporting justice inside football and how journalists such as James Dorsey are becoming shocking casualties throughout this process as football continues to subvert the concept of transparency by controlling information and shooting the messenger, even threatening them with legal action over sources.”

The broadcast was posted as world soccer body FIFA suspended Mr. Bin Hammam for another 45 days pending an investigation into charges that he last year bribed Caribbean soccer officials to secure their support for his electoral challenge of Sepp Blatter’s FIFA presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam was earlier suspended for 90 days after the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) overturned FIFA’s banning from involvement in soccer for life of the Qatari national. The former FIFA vice president has also been suspended as president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) pending an investigation into his financial and commercial management of the group.

In a statement, Mr. Bin Hammam’s lawyer Edmund D. Gulland denounced FIFA’s extension of its suspension on the grounds that the soccer body had provided no justification for the measure. “The basic tenet of law is that a person is innocent until proven guilty after a trial conducted according to due process. The situation that Mr Bin Hammam is facing is even more bizarre - a man who has prevailed in a trial by an independent legal body continues to be punished in an arbitrary manner…. The reasons for FIFA’s actions are of course political. Mr Bin Hammam stood against Mr Blatter in the presidential election. And he stood on a ticket of reform and restructure – wanting not only an ethical organisation, but one whose power was more devolved from the centre. So he was a threat not only to Blatter but also to the FIFA administration in Zurich. He has also made repeated calls for Blatter’s conduct in the Presidential elections to be examined,” Mr. Gulland said.

Mr. Gulland’s assertion that the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s 108-year old history is in part political may indeed ring true. Anto and David Larkin’s discussion on the podcast offers interesting perspectives and insights and no doubt the blame in FIFA and regional soccer organizations goes round with Mr. Bin Hammam’s case serving as the tip of the iceberg and a potential monkey wrench to force long overdue reform and restructuring. That, however, does not take Mr. Bin Hammam and his associates off the hook of having to answer publicly a series of questions raised in part by an internal AFC audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) earlier this year.

The first 28 minutes of the podcast offers a fascinating discussion of “how racism has become yet another key political wedge issue that can be used as currency in the battle for control and commerce rather than a real instrument for change” as well as “how even FIFA and (European soccer body) UEFA continue to fail the anti-racsim and anti-discrimination efforts worldwide, essentially undermining the process for change because the monopoly of administrators in the game show little to no regard for people of colour, minorities or even the cause for women, working on a perverse calculus where even the press is used as tool for collecting cheap political points.” The podcast also looks at how UEFA president Michel Platini “is positioning himself and UEFA for his bid for the FIFA Presidency.”

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.


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