We all have our thoughts on the five FIFA Presidential candidates. To the extent that they have a platform, they are remarkably similar and, in typical FIFA fashion, we know that the election will be contested behind closed doors. Read more here about the FIFA election, the candidates, their manifestos.
I’m hopeful that the American and Swiss authorities may make a swoop and put an end to the FIFA carcass prior to the election so we don’t have to proceed at all. That would allow world football to get on with what it needs – an external independent FIFA Commission. But I also recognise we can’t rely on that as there are many i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed in the work of the authorities and this could take years. Literally.
Last week, I wrote about how the five candidates and the non-debate that was so typical of the same old FIFA. Today I want to focus on one of them: Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
It defies logic that we have a frontrunner – reportedly supported by the majority of African and Asian voters – who is exposed to the most serious allegations of human rights abuse associated with his chairmanship of a committee investigating the role of athletes in the Arab Spring of 2011, their arrests, subsequent jailing and torturing of some of those athletes.
But that’s not all when it comes to Shaikh Salman. In 2009, he dipped into the FIFA Goal funds to fund his attempt to get on to the FIFA Executive Committee. Further, there are allegations from former FIFA Ethics committee member and SBS-TV journalist, Les Murray, that Salman was buying votes for that 2009 election.
Regardless of what interests you most, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Salman should not be a candidate. Whether you’re a ‘left wing loony’ who doesn’t give a stuff about money and you’re only focused on human rights or you’re a ‘right wing nut job’ who doesn’t give a damn about human rights and only cares about the bucks, he shouldn’t be running for the presidency, let alone leading the race.
Allegations re human rights abuse
The Bahrain national news agency – a state-run media organisation – reported in April 2011 that a commission of inquiry to investigate participation in ‘Arab Spring’ peaceful protests by individuals involved in sport had been established and would be chaired by one Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Here’s the original report about the commission’s first meeting in April 2011, and here’s an English translation. A further Bahrain news agency report on 20 April details some of the penalties imposed on individual players and clubs.
Yet in this report from Associated Press, Salman says it must be a different Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and that the committee never met.
- Which version of events is correct about Shaikh Salman’s role in the crackdown on ‘Arab Spring’ protestors in Bahrain? Did Shaikh Salman lie when he denied the commission of inquiry even met?
Allegations re use of GOAL money
According to reports in the Al Bilad Press in August 2009, the Bahrain Football Association was broke. They sought a payment of USD$1.7m from the Bahrian government sports organisation to cover costs of USD$2.2m incurred by Salman in his campaign against Mohamed Bin Hammam for a FIFA Executive Committee spot. The publication alleged that the funds came, in part, from GOAL monies from FIFA (grants made for the development of football and facilities within the country) with documents showing transfer of money to “several participants in the campaign” as well as to jewellery shops and a global bank.
The following day, the Bahrain FA did not deny the report. Instead, in a written statement to Al Wasat Sports, they attacked the person who leaked the material. Familiar territory – FIFA Playbook 101.
- How did Salman fund his 2009 campaign against Mohamed Bin Hammam? At any stage, were GOAL monies used?
Allegations re vote buying
In April 2009, FIFA Ethics Committee member, and Australian journalist, Les Murray wrote to the chair of his own committee saying that information had come to light that Salman was “buying” votes for the 2009 Asian Football Confederation campaign against Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Ironically perhaps, Murray’s source was Bin Hammam, who claimed that votes were being bought for between USD$100,000 and $300,000. This is the very same Mohamed Bin Hammam who has been banned from FIFA for life for doing the very same thing.
As far as anyone is aware, Murray’s referral was never investigated.
- Has Les Murray’s allegation of vote-rigging been investigated?
- If it was, the findings should be made public.
A shilling for your thoughts
Having clearly stated three concerns associated with Salman’s candidacy, I now expect – in fact, I welcome – a letter from Schillings.
Not heard of them? They’re a swanky London law firm known for ‘Defending reputation, demanding privacy’. Partner Rachel Atkins helpfully defines the concept of ‘reputation resilience’ as being “about understanding what the world thinks about you today and what you want the world to think about you tomorrow.”
Schillings have been peppering media organisations with legal letters and threats of writs. It makes corporate media lawyers – naturally very cautious people – terrified. In the industry, it’s known as a ‘stop writ’.
I know of at least seven media organisations in different parts of the world (including five British national newspapers) that have received threatening letters because they’ve done the right thing journalistically and dared to ask Salman for responses to questions around human rights and other allegations against him. The ‘stop writ’ arrives; the article doesn’t get published; mission accomplished. Schillings gets paid somewhat more than their namesake.
Some of Schillings’ eclectic client list has included Lance Armstrong refuting doping allegations, Ryan Giggs, Uzbeki billionaire Alisher Uzmanov, Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (a close relative of Salman) and Peter Hargitay.
‘Peter Who?’ many will ask. He’s the behind-the-scenes fixer (claim to fame as spinmeister for Union Carbide after the Bhopal tragedy which claimed the lives of more than 17,000 people) who has reportedly been employed by Shaikh Salman as ‘strategic advisor’ to Salman’s candidacy. Amongst other things, Hargitay has often bragged of his close and enduring friendship with former FIFA luminaries Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam. I despair. One of his jobs for Bin Hammam was in the 2009 campaign against Salman.
Is anyone home?
Domenico Scala is ‘Mr FIFA’ nowadays. His fingerprints are everywhere.
He is head of the Audit and Compliance Committee. He is Chair of the Ad Hoc Electoral Committee. You may recall that only two weeks ago, he bragged to my #NewFIFANow colleague Damian Collins MP, about ‘his’ reforms that he hopes FIFA will soon adopt – while being unable to answer two very simple questions about the non-debate he had a big hand in putting a stop to. And I have correspondence from Scala that shows he involved himself in a FIFA smear campaign against FIFA whistleblower and my #NewFIFANow colleague, Bonita Mersiades, last year.
We know that Scala was aware of the allegations regarding Salman. The Senior Legal Counsel for the Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD) first brought them to the attention of the Michael Garcia-led FIFA Ethics Committee in January 2014. Garcia said he had no jurisdiction to investigate on several occasions.
BIRD brought the same issues to the attention of Scala, and current Ethics Committee heads Cornel Borbely and Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert in November last year, calling on Scala’s Ad Hoc Electoral Committee to disqualify Salman from the race for the FIFA Presidency. The response? Zilch.
According to Inside World Football, BIRD is an incompetent organisation. Soon after BIRD’s complaint was given to Scala, a series of ‘exclusive’ interviews were given to its editor, Paul Nicholson – who worked with Hargitay on the Bin Hammam campaign in 2009 – refuting all the claims made by BIRD. Funny that.
As we know Scala struggles with questions, I will try to make it as simple as possible for him.
- What information did he take into account in assessing the Presidential candidates as fit for office whilst supervising the integrity tests??
- In the interests of transparency, and his own reputation, why doesn’t he immediately release the information on which he based his assessment for all candidates?
Not walking alone
I know that the matters I have raised here are shared by many football fans around the world. We receive emails and tweets about this regularly at #NewFIFANow. These matters are also of concern to NGOs who have called for clarity or action – BIRD, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation and Transparency International. Obviously, these issues are of legitimate interest to media representatives also.
So to recap, on behalf of football fans around the world, as well as those who not only love sport but what sport stands for, I’m calling on FIFA to respond to these questions:
- Which version of events is correct about Shaikh Salman’s role in the crackdown on ‘Arab Spring’ protestors in Bahrain. Did Shaikh Salman lie when he denied the commission of inquiry even met?
- How did Salman fund his 2009 campaign against Mohamed Bin Hammam? At any stage, were GOAL monies used?
- Has Les Murray’s allegation of vote rigging been investigated? If it was, the findings should be made public.
- What information did Domenico Scala take into account in assessing the Presidential candidates as fit for office whilst supervising the integrity tests?
- In the interests of transparency, and Scala’s own reputation, why doesn’t he immediately release the information on which he based his assessment for all candidates?
If Scala is truly independent, and not influenced unduly by one of the candidates or his advisors, and if he has done his job properly, he will have no difficulty in responding to these questions.
And if Schillings was more concerned about their reputation as an organisation interested in truth and justice, rather than who the next rich thing is to walk through the door at Bedford Square, then they would cease the ‘stop writs’ and advise their client – whether it be Salman or Hargitay – that transparency and accountability within FIFA would be better served by responding to journalists’ questions, not hiding behind an embossed legal letter.