Two years on from the corruption crisis which consumed FIFA, football’s governing body meets for its latest annual Congress in Bahrain this week still far from free of suspicion.
It was May 2015 in Switzerland, as delegates prepared for that year’s Congress, when plain-clothes officers pounced and arrested scores of FIFA officials.
The ramifications of that are still being felt — with ongoing investigations in the US and Switzerland — and 24 months later fresh problems are emerging for the still relatively new leadership of president Gianni Infantino.
The run-up to this year’s event in Manama, on May 11, has been overshadowed by the resignation from the FIFA council of powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, who is facing corruption allegations in the US.
Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad has been named as a co-conspirator of disgraced Guam football chief Richard Lai, who recently pleaded guilty to receiving nearly $1 million in bribes from football officials wanting his help to influence FIFA.
Sabah’s prominence across sport cannot be underestimated, as he also heads the Association of National Olympic Committees, the Olympic Council of Asia and has other senior sport administration posts, including with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Issues on FIFA’s agenda this week could also prove contentious.
Item 16 is a proposal to look at how FIFA allocates its most prestigious tournament, the World Cup.
Under current rules, the event cannot be staged in the same region more than once every 12 years.
However, any change to this policy could allow football’s emerging power, China, to make a bid for the 2030 tournament, just eight years after its AFC colleague, Qatar, controversially hosts the 2022 World Cup.
Any such move is likely to be challenged by Argentina and Uruguay which wants to jointly host the tournament in 17 years’ time to mark the centenary of the very first World Cup, played in Montevideo.
Another contentious issue is that of Israel and Palestine.
The Palestine Football Association argues that the presence of six Israeli clubs on its territory is in breach of FIFA statutes, which forbids another member association playing on another territory without permission.
Israel argues that FIFA rules are unenforceable as there is no permanent border.
But even before the FIFA Congress convenes, there could be controversy in Manama. BRN
On May 8, in the same venue, the AFC will hold its rescheduled congress to finally elect its FIFA Council members.
This vote has been delayed since last September when the AFC took just 27 minutes to abandon their extraordinary congress in Goa.
The meeting was abruptly cancelled after Saoud Al-Mohannadi, Qatar Football Association’s vice-president, was stopped at the very last minute from standing for election for the FIFA council.
He was then banned from football for a year after being accused of not co-operating with a FIFA corruption enquiry.
However, last month, in a rare reversal, Mohannadi won his appeal against the ban handed down by a FIFA ethics committee.
This exoneration though was too late for him to apply to stand for the council again.
Mohannadi though has told AFP he will be in Bahrain and has been “examining” ways to run again for election.
Another item for the AFC to decide is whether or not to agree to Iraq’s request to end the international ban on hosting football matches.
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