KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
/ ZURICH: The Bin Hammam battle is all over. The 63-year-old Qatari has dropped his fight with FIFA, walked away from football and thus brought closure on the most damaging scandal in the history of the world football federation.
Whispers of a conclusion circulated last week in Tokyo, before a meeting of the FIFA executive committee. Bin Hammam is believed to have met FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Qatari officials when Blatter was in Doha recently, ostensibly to address a sports business conference.
Confirmation then came with an official announcement from Zurich. It said simply that Mohamed Bin Hammam, former president of the Asian confederation, had been banned for life after giving up the fight to clear his name. He had been accused of misusing AFC funds for personal use – described obliquely by FIFA only as “conflicts of interest.”
Bin Hammam’s decision means that doubt will always hang over his role, in collusion with Trinidad government minister Jack Warner, over the presidential election campaign conference he addressed in Trinidad in May of last year. This shadow will live on even though FIFA’s new prosecutor, Michael Garcia, had officially dropped further inquiries into events in Port of Spain.
Bin Hammam was the first Qatari to rise to prominence in world football and was a decisive supporter of Sepp Blatter when the then chief executive and general secretary of FIFA decided to run for the presidency in 1998 when Joao Havelange stood down.
Campaign funds and a private plane were put at Blatter’s disposal and he ultimately carried the day in the Paris Congress vote over UEFA president Lennart Johansson. Bin Hammam backed Blatter again in controversial circumstances when the Swiss secured re-election in Seoul in 2002.
In return, Bin Hammam appears to have assumed all-embracing powers to run the Asian confederation, its administration and political and financial affairs, in whatever way he thought fit without let or hindrance from Zurich. However his support for Blatter waned sharply after the president decided to go for a third term in 2007. Bin Hammam apparently believed Blatter would stand down and give him a clear run at becoming the first Asian president of the world federation.
Thus Bin Hammam launched a candidacy to oust Blatter at the start of last year. With Blatter’s administration mired in the scandal-hit debacle of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes, ‘MBH’ believed he held winning cards.
After campaigning busily in Europe and Africa he reached a position where he thought all he needed to be assured a majority in the vote in congress was the guarantee of the 35 votes of the Central and North American Confederation (CONCACAF).
For reasons which remain unclear, Bin Hammam could not obtain a visa to enter the United States in time for for CONCACAF’s spring congress in Miami at which Blatter announced significant extra development funds for the region.
However CONCACAF’s then president, controversial Trinidadian Jack Warner, organised an ‘offshore’ campaign conference for Bin Hammam in Port of Spain. This was held under the auspices of the Carribean Football Union whose delegates were offered $40,000 in cash in brown envelopes for ‘expenses.’
Chuck Blazer, an American FIFA exco member and then general secretary of CONCACAF, did not attend the meeting but – after years of working hand in glove with Warner – turned on him by blowing the whistle on events in Port of Spain.
Subsquently Warner and Bin Hammam were charged by FIFA with ethics code offences concerning illicit payments. They were both suspended from football pending a full hearing, barely a week before the 2011 Congress in Zurich . . . at which Blatter, with Bin Hammam comveniently out of the way, was elected unopposed.
Warner immediately walked away from all football – he had been president of CONCACAF and the CFU and also a vice-president of FIFA – but Bin Hammam chose to stay and fight.
Little good it did him. Bin Hammam was found guilty by FIFA’s ethics panel in the summer of 2011 and banned for life. He appealed in vain to FIFA but eventually had his ban quashed – grudgingly, as the narrative verdict made clear – by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this past July.
In the meantime the AFC had elected China’s Zhang Jilong as acting president, a move Bin Hammam tried in vain to prevent at CAS.
Just as Bin Hammam had his life ban scrapped by CAS so he was suspended again, provisionally, by both the AFC and FIFA after an Asian federation audit alleged he had accessed its funds for personal use, among family and friends.
Bin Hammam – and his Washington-based US lawyer, Eugene Gulland – insisted on fighting on. The shadow of yet another battle at CAS was looming on the horizon until, last Saturday, Bin Hammam sent FIFA and the AFC a letter announcing his full and final resignation from all football roles.
But Bin Hammam, unlike Warner, could not walk away ‘scot-free’ under the new FIFA Code of Ethics. Hence he has formally been banned from football for life.
FIFA and, more immediately, the AFC, can move on – though complex issues remain for the Asian confederation to resolve over contracts entered into during the Bin Hammam decade.
The FIFA statement
Mohamed Bin Hammam resigns from football, banned for life
Mr Mohamed Bin Hammam, FIFA Executive Committee member and AFC President, has resigned from all his positions in football with immediate effect and will never be active in organised football again. This results from a resignation letter of Mr Bin Hammam addressed to FIFA and AFC dated on 15 December 2012.
In view of the fact that under the new FIFA Code of Ethics, the FIFA Ethics Committee remains competent to render a decision even if a person resigns, the Adjudicatory Chamber decided to ban Mohamed Bin Hammam from all football-related activity for life.
This life ban is based on the final report of Michael J. Garcia, Chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee. That report showed repeated violations of Article 19 (Conflict of Interest) of the FIFA Code of Ethics, edition 2012, of Mohamed 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.
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