In the battle to obstruct reforms
that would have tackled the Asian soccer body’s troubled
governance structure and helped improve its tarnished image, the
executive committee deferred decisions on an internal audit
conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers that raised serious
questions about a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA)
negotiated under Mr. Bin Hammam’s supervision with
Singapore-based World Sports Group.
Responsibility for dealing with the report was delegated to
the AFC’s legal committee in which sources said Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old
Qatari national, wields considerable influence. The committee’s chairman,
Pakistani government minister and Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president
Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat thwarted an attempt to establish an ethics task
force to deal with issues of governance and mismanagement by demanding that he
be appointed head of the force rather than Moya Dodd, a respected Australian
lawyer and member of the AFC executive committee.
The executive committee also deferred
a proposal for an independent valuation of the WSG contract, which
PwC said may be undervalued.
“The PwC report was effectively
buried,” one source said.
The proposals for reform were being
pushed by a minority of the member associations, including those of
Jordan, Singapore, Japan, Australia and Guam, sources said.
Sources said opponents of change were
aided by reluctance of acting AFC president Zhang Zhilong to take a
firm stand in the committee meeting. “Zhilong sat on the fence. He
allowed Makhdoum’s group to reign,” one source said, adding that he
has his eyes on the election in which many see the Chinese national
as a frontrunner.
The sources said Mr. Bin Hammam’s
supporters benefited from the fact that Mr. Zhilong and others who
now are critical of Mr. Bin Hammam are hampered by their history.
Mr. Zhilong recently accused Mr. Bin Hammam and his lawyer, Eugene
Gulland, of employing “intimidatory tactics” in his battle within
the AFC. Messrs Bin Hammam and Gulland have rejected the accusation.
"Zhilong is doing his best but Bin
Hammam has made clever use of history -- Zhilong was head of the
finance committee under Bin Hammam. Zhilong is a little bit scared
and can’t be too aggressive. He knows that he is not without blame
and that the ground under him is not rock solid,” one source said.
An AFC statement asserting that the
committee meeting was “marked by solidarity” notwithstanding,
sources said there were bitter battles over the calls for reform and
action on the basis of the PwC report with pro-Bin Hammam members
strategizing deep into the night on the eve of the crucial
The AFC’s deferral of action on the
PwC audit portrays the Asian soccer body as an organization
unwilling or unable to confront head on serious allegations of
financial mismanagement and possible corruption. The decision
nonetheless is not enough to bury the audit.
Responsibility for investigating Mr.
Bin Hammam’s management of the AFC, including the allegations made
by the PwC report was handed prior to the executive committee
meeting to world soccer body FIFA. The investigation is being merged
with a separate FIFA investigation into charges that Mr. Bin Hammam
last year sought to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in
his campaign to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.
The blocking of proposed reforms and
action on the PwC’s report is Mr. Bin Hammam’s second victory in
recent months. The Lausanne based Court for the Arbitration of Sport
(CAS) earlier overturned a lifetime ban on involvement in soccer
imposed on 63-year old Qatari national by FIFA. CAS was careful
however not to declare Mr. Bin Hammam innocent, saying that the
evidence presented was insufficient and shoddy and that FIFA should
come back with a better prepared case.
Mr. Bin Hammam, who is at the center
of the worst scandal in the history of both FIFA and the AFC, has
repeatedly denied any wrong doing and has charged that the
allegations were construed in a bid to destroy him because he had
credibly challenged Mr. Blatter.
The PwC audit concluded that Mr. Bin
Hammam had used an AFC sundry account as his personal account,
raised questions about the negotiation and terms of the MRA and rang
alarm bells about $14 million in payments to Mr. Bin Hammam by a WSG
shareholder in advance of the signing of the agreement.
The AFC this month, in a move that
effectively tightens Mr. Bin Hammam and WSG's grip on key parts of
the AFC including Mr. Soosay as well as its marketing, legal and
finance committee, fired its marketing director Satoshi Saito, who
was seconded for two years to the group by the Japanese Football
Association (JFA), one of the Qatari national’s staunchest critics.
Sources said that Mr. Saito was
advised that his contract would not be extended and that he no
longer had to come to the office. Mr. Saito, the sources said, had
long been barred from meetings with WSG, AFC's marketing partner, on
the grounds that "the company holds all plenipotentiary rights to
AFC's marketing rights."
James M. Dorsey
is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International
Studies and the author of The
Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.