10 May 2017

Bahrain bans German journalist from FIFA Congress

Bahrain’s Ministry of Information Affairs has denied German journalist Robert Kempe entry to the kingdom to cover the FIFA Congress, which begins tomorrow. ‘The Bahraini authorities have not justified the entry ban for Kempe’, read a statement from WDR, a regional member of Kempe’s employer, public broadcaster ARD. ‘FIFA was informed of the entry ban by both Bahrain and ARD protested, but FIFA found itself powerless to grant the ARD journalist access’.

When covering the FIFA Presidential election during 2016, Kempe reported allegations of human rights violations involving one of the Presidential candidates, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (pictured). Sheikh Salman, President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and a member of Bahrain’s royal family and the FIFA Council, is hosting tomorrow’s Congress. He was President of the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) during 2011’s Arab Spring uprising, and was accused of identifying clubs and athletes that took part in the protests who were later detained and tortured – allegations that he denies.

It has also been alleged that Sheikh Salman partnered with Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah in a bribery conspiracy designed to gain influence over the AFC. ‘These efforts were ultimately successful as Candidate #1 [Sheikh Salman] eventually was elected President of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #2 [Sheikh Ahmad] was ultimately elected to the FIFA Executive Committee, and co-conspirator #1 [Mohamed bin Hammam] was banned for life from holding positions in organised soccer’, read a US Department of Justice (DoJ) charge sheet relating to Richard K. Lai.

FIFA has suspended Lai as a member of its Audit and Compliance Committee after he pleaded guilty to the DoJ charges. Sheikh Ahmad was forced to resign his position on the FIFA Council after being identified by the DoJ charge sheet, however he has retained his position as President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

It has also been alleged that Sheikh Salman financed his 2009 campaign to be elected to the FIFA Executive Committee (as the FIFA Council was then called) with money designated for FIFA GOAL projects. National Associations in countries where football is developing can apply for FIFA GOAL project funding to construct football facilities and infrastructure.

“There is a debate in relation to Sheikh Salman that in the past – for example in 2009 when he ran for the FIFA Executive – that he not only used money from the Bahrain Football Association, but they also used FIFA GOAL money as well”, UK MP Damian Collins told The Sports Integrity Initiative. In February last year, Collins told the UK Parliament:

‘In a leaked letter received by the Al Bilad newspaper it was claimed that Sheikh Salman had spent upwards of 855,000 dinars (£1.6 million GBP) on his campaign and that some of this money had come from FIFA-financed football development projects, in particular Goal 1 (intended to help fund a new Bahrain FA headquarters), and Goal 3 (intended to provide facilities for the development of youth and women’s football); that after FIFA requested urgent information from the Bahrain FA regarding the misappropriation of funds Sheikh Salman did not comment until early September 2009, at which point he denied those claims, however the Bahrain FA did not dispute the contents of the leaked documents; also notes that prior to Sheikh Salman’s election to the Presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in May 2013, details of the flights that the Football Federation of Kyrgyz Republic’s (FFKR) delegation would be taking to and from Kuala Lumpur for the AFC vote were emailed to the private account of the ‘IT manager’ at the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), of which a close associate of Sheikh Salman was Head; that three days before the vote, requests for support for 53 projects for Kyrgyzstan football to the tune of millions of pounds were discussed although there seems to be no legitimate reason for the FFKR, part of FIFA, to be seeking funding from the OCA, part of the International Olympic Committee; notes that the FFKR approached the OCA again after the AFC election asking when they would receive payment for their projects, which gives strong grounds to suspect that the FFKR voted for Sheikh Salman because they believed they would receive significant financial support from the OCA (including that OCA officials appear to have met officials from the FFKR during the AFC vote in 2013); and believes that this is a fresh ‘cash for votes’ scandal which needs urgent investigation.”

These allegations have yet to be fully investigated. Details about the funding that Bahrain has received from FIFA GOAL projects is available here.

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