PANAJI, India, Sept 26, (AFP): World football body FIFA has banned a senior Qatari official from running in elections for a seat on its new-look council over an investigation.
Scandal-plagued FIFA’s ethics committee last month recommended a two-and-a-half-year ban from the game for Saoud Al-Mohannadi, vice-president of the Qatar Football Association, for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry.
FIFA has not revealed the subject of the inquiry, but it is not connected with the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar will host.
Mohannadi denies any wrongdoing and had been cleared to stand in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) elections in Goa, India, on Tuesday before the AFC announced that he’d been ruled out.
“FIFA has advised the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that, based on the report of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, it has decided Mr Saoud A. Aziz Al-Mohannadi (Qatar) is not eligible to stand in the elections for the FIFA Council,” the AFC said in a statement late Sunday.
Six candidates from Asia, including China and North Korea, will vie at the AFC extraordinary congress in Goa for three seats on FIFA’s council, which was set up under anti-corruption reforms earlier this year.
FIFA’s all-powerful executive committee, which had become the epicentre of corruption at the organisation, was rebranded as a FIFA council at the body’s congress in Mexico earlier this year.
It was created to operate in a similar way to a company’s board of directors as part of plans to make the organisation more transparent, including in the awarding of host countries for World Cups, following a string of corruption scandals.
Three male candidates — Zhang Jian of China, Iran’s Ali Kafashian Naeni and Zainudin Nordin of Singapore — will compete for two of the seats in Tuesday’s vote, which will be attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino
Three women are contesting the third slot under FIFA’s reforms which state that each confederation must have a minimum of one female representative on the council.
Former Australian footballer Moya Dodd is favourite to pip Mahfuza Ahkter of Bangladesh and North Korea’s Han Un-Gyong to be the AFC female representative.
Infantino is undertaking a clean-up of FIFA after a series of corruption scandals and bribery allegations plunged the body into crisis.
Former president Sepp Blatter is serving a six-year ban from football over ethics violations while former secretary-general Jerome Valcke was banned for 10 years over misconduct regarding television deals and 2014 World Cup ticket sales.
Allegations of vote-buying have also dogged the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 edition to Qatar.
Nothing sinister should be read into the disbanding of the FIFA task force on racism as it had simply achieved its goals, FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura said on Monday.
The 54-year-old Senegalese — recruited to some surprise from the United Nations in May and the first woman and non-European to serve on the FIFA executive — added FIFA could live with the perception by many that it was too soon to end the task force’s work.
“We can live with perception but we are taking very seriously our role as football’s governing body to fight discrimination, it is well reflected in the statutes,” said Samoura, who delivered the keynote address at the Soccerex Global Football Convention.
The task force was established in 2013 by disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter to eradicate racism in football but was disbanded recently with the world sports body controversially insisting the mission had been a success.
“It had a very specific mandate and they came up with very strong recommendations and FIFA is acting on them,” said Samoura.
“There are several cases against teams and based on solid legal grounds we have taken strong measures through the sanctioning body.
“Coming from the UN we must really be firm. It is really on top of the agenda of the FIFA administration.
“It is zero tolerance to discrimination on grounds of culture, racism colour of the skin and sexual orientation.”
Andy Burnham, formerly Culture, Media and Sport Secretary in former prime minister Tony Blair’s government, had aired his concerns when he opened the convention, addressing Samoura directly saying it was rather worrying with Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup as their fans are notorious for their racist chants and attacks.
“It’s not football’s problem alone but it is used as a vehicle by extremists in football to try and promote Islamophobia and xenophobia,” said Burnham.
“We must take the toughest possible line that we are all one and won’t tolerate racism in our great game and give extremists publicity.”
Soccerex is a top sports business conference bringing together more than 3,000 delegates to Manchester over the coming three days.
Samoura’s appointment triggered scepticism over her lack of knowledge of football, but she insisted she had helped her husband run a football club in Senegal so understood many facets of the game. She also said she would not have left her role at the UN after 21 years — she worked on the UN World Food Programme and in several hotspots including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo — if she had felt FIFA was beyond redemption following s serious of massive scandals.
“The FIFA brand is very solid,” she said. “I had a very comfortable position in the UN but I was convinced by the new FIFA president Gianni Infantino it was time for a change at FIFA.
“Yes it suffered reputational damage but my presence here is how to restore trust and confidence in FIFA. I am ready to take this challenge.”
Samoura, a multi-linguist who has a masters in English and Spanish, said the worst was over for the battered governing body with the Blatter era firmly in the past and with trials of several of the former FIFA powerbrokers due to start in the United States.
“Definitely I think we are putting t behind us and we don’t want to be distracted by the past,” she said.
“My administration is separating the two things. Let’s get the investigation out of the way and put greater tools in place so as not to repeat mistakes of the past.”
Samoura said that she could bring some things she learned from the UN to the table at FIFA.
“The UN is a great school when it comes to high accountability and standards, one can draw lessons from that.
“Also tolerance. Our daily job is to make sure we use UN as a powerful tool to overcome cultural and other barriers. This is what I am bringing to FIFA — we are all equal.”