KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- A shadow has been cast over the FIFA ethics chamber after the world federation’s appeals committee scrapped a suspension which had caused anger and confusion within Asian football.
Last September Saoud Al-Mohannadi, a vice-president of both the Qatari federation and the Asian Football Confederation, was barred from standing in an AFC election for a slot on the governing FIFA Council.
Al-Mohannadi had fallen foul of the FIFA eligibility review committee acting on information from the ethics chamber which was about to ban him from all football activities for one year for not cooperating with another investigation.
The extraordinary election congress of the Asian confederation, under president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, ended its deliberations after 27 minutes in a display of fury at not only interference from above but the late timing of the ban.
In the November Al-Mohannadi was banned by FIFA’s ethics committee for having failed to cooperate as a witness in an investigation, believed to have concerned fellow Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam who is under a life ban.
However, FIFA’s appeal committee has now announced that there had been insufficient evidence to establish that Al-Mohannadi had violated the code of ethics. It also lifted a 20,000 Swiss franc (15,950 pound) fine levied against him.
The election for four places on the Council will now go ahead in May. The AFC had already named the candidates and it seems impossible for Al-Mohannadi to be reinstated at this late stage. The only recourse would be for the AFC to postpone an election due to take place only days before FIFA Congress in Bahrain.
However this would carry further negative consequences. The failure to elect extra delegates to FIFA Council last September meant that Asian football has been under-represented at the top table at a crucial time when important decisions have been taken about the expansion of the World Cup from 2026 and slot allocations.
An extra dimension attends the Al-Mohannadi decision, concerning the ethics chamber chief investigator Cornel Borbely and German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
Speculation has been rife for some months that FIFA president Gianni Infantino – unimpressed at having come under scrutiny himself last year over expenses and flights – wants FIFA Congress to replace both men with other nominees.
This might appear ungrateful to Eckert since he was the judge who banned both former president Sepp Blatter and vice-president Michel Platini from world football in December 2015 and thus opened the way for Infantino to seize the top job.
Secretary-general Fatma Samoura has denied any such strategy. However Infantino has purged FIFA of all senior appointees from the Blatter era, with the exception of fomer legal director Marco Villiger who is now a joint deputy secretary general.
Chung weighs in
Only on Thursday former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon, who is challenging a five-year ban of his own at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, complained that he had been punished through Blatter’s inherent and abiding influence over the ethics chamber.
The South Korean billionaire, a FIFA vice-president from 1994 to 2011, said: “When one looks at the key members of the ethics committee and the appeal committee who were put there by Blatter, I realise that [recent changes] are not the end of FIFA’s reform but only the beginning.
“I really expect that Infantino will change lots of things for FIFA but Blatter’s people are still on the Ethics Committee and Appeal Committee. It’s going to take some time, but I will do everything in my power to make FIFA clean.”
Chung also echoed a complaint from Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls – over his own ban on a separate issue – that the ethics chamber took far too long to provide the written judgment essential before it was possible to undertake an appeal.
He said: “Because the ethics committee had previously taken six months to send its reasoned decision, I can only now prepare to file an appeal to CAS, some 18 months after the original ban was imposed.
“This is like a court carrying out the execution of the defendant, then sending out the ruling 18 months later.”
This writer understands that the ethics chamber dealt with cases in terms of the significance of the status of the individuals. Thus cases dealing with the likes of Blatter and Platini took precedence over individuals such as Chung and Mayne-Nicholls.