FIFA's judges should also be judged

Bin Hammam has been banned from football for life by the FIFA Ethics Committee, but are they the right people to judge?

    Deputy chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee Petrus Damaseb presided over the case of Bin Hammam [EPA] 

    So Mohamed Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, has been banned from football for life. 

    Charged with bribery under the FIFA Code of Ethics, his future has been crushed by FIFA's Ethics Committee, an all-knowing, all-powerful group of football nabobs that when fully constituted consists of chairman Claudio Sulser of Switzerland, deputy chairman Petrus Damaseb of Namibia and 11 representatives from all over the world, ranging from associations as far afield as Papua New Guinea to Panama. 

    In Zurich, only five sat in judgment of Bin Hammam: Damaseb, Sondre Kaafjord of Norway, Les Murray of Australia, Juan Pedro Damiani of Uruguay and Robert Torres of Guam. Bin Hammam chose not to front the truncated committee whose job, as its name suggests, is to police FIFA's officials and to ensure they act at all times in a manner befitting their privilege. He had five legal counsel acting for him.  

    The truth of the matter is he didn't believe he stood a chance. And he was proved right. 

    For some time Bin Hammam has been seen in the eyes of many observers as a dead man walking and in the lead-up to the judgment he was talking like one, despite professing his innocence and vowing to take his case all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and, if necessary, the civil courts.

    "The leaking of confidential information by individuals to the media, before the entire story had been told in a manner that is fair to all sides, was done for their own purposes and personal agendas"

    Mohamed Bin Hammam

    This week on his personal website, an always fascinating insight into the mind of a proud if egotistical individual who until his life ban was the second most powerful man in world football, the Qatari sounded appropriately pessimistic: "With just a few days to go before my hearing, there can be no doubt that there has been a campaign waged within certain quarters to ensure that I am seen to be guilty and eliminated from football in the court of public opinion, even before my hearing has started. 

    "The leaking of confidential information by individuals to the media, before the entire story had been told in a manner that is fair to all sides, was done for their own purposes and personal agendas." 

    It's not clear who Bin Hammam is talking about though it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's in his sights: the man right at the top, Sepp Blatter.  

    However, beyond nameless and pernicious individuals lurking in the shadows, I would argue the Ethics Committee has been far from unprejudiced itself – if you review some of the comments made by Australia's sole representative on the panel, Les Murray. 

    Murray, a veteran TV journalist, used to be my boss at SBS Sport in Australia. I worked there from 2007 to 2011. For those who are not familiar with it, SBS is a public broadcaster that receives taxpayer funds to operate.

    And it was a network that sided with the Australian World Cup bid to the detriment of other World Cup bids, so much so that a "preferred editorial policy" was issued by Murray to staff at SBS Sport and to freelancers used by the department to "support" the bid.

    "It is not a good look if we – SBS – the most powerful voice in [Australian] football, appear to talk down the bid or declare it stillborn," he wrote in June 2008 after FIFA president Sepp Blatter had suggested the 2018 event should go to Europe. 

    "Given that the bid has great support in Australia, including enthusiastic support by all governments, my preferred editorial policy would be to support it. This is not to say we shouldn't broadcast the facts or that we shouldn't give it balanced debate." 

    In my view that "balanced debate" never happened and the corollary of supporting the bid was actually protecting it from criticism. In fact, some columns I wrote for SBS regarding the Australian World Cup bid and/or criticisms I and others made of it never saw the light of day.

         Murray is congratulated by FIFA President Blatter after becoming an Ethics Committee member [GETTY] 

    In March 2010 I was even sent an email by Murray, SBS's editorial supervisor, asking me to consider writing something critical about USA bid boss Sunil Gulati, apropos comments the American had made about the strengths of the USA 2022 bid: "Just an idea but you may want to respond to this Gulati clown in a blog. That's if you hold that view, of course. I can't because of my role on the FIFA Ethics Committee. I can wise you up on the arguments why his claims don't hold much water, starting with the fact that they are all based on money." 

    Eventually I blew the whistle on the "preferred editorial policy" and what I took to be Murray's suggestion to write a critical column regarding the American bid by speaking to Australia's other public broadcaster, the ABC, after my contract at SBS was not renewed in mysterious circumstances and some time after it was made clear to me I wouldn't be able to write about political subjects freely. 

    On its own this behaviour, in my opinion, was questionable for a member of FIFA's Ethics Committee. But more alarming and relevant to Bin Hammam's case were prejudicial comments Murray made about Qatar after the Middle Eastern emirate had won the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.  

    "As a private individual I'm convinced there was collusion," he said on SBS Radio in December 2010.

    "That Qatar should hold the World Cup is a notion that borders on the ludicrous. If you are going to take the World Cup to new lands, why not take it to Australia? FIFA is in big trouble. Nobody will believe that Qatar won this process legitimately – people will probe away asking questions." 

    Whichever way you cut it and whatever your views on how Qatar won the World Cup, Murray's comments, made as a "private citizen" or not, should have raised serious concerns about his suitability to sit on this eminent panel that is supposedly above reproach and should now form a central plank of Bin Hammam's appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport or the civil courts.  

    Article 6, "Conduct towards government and private organisations", of the code clearly states: "In dealings with government institutions, national and international organisations, associations and groupings, officials shall… remain politically neutral, in accordance with the principles and objectives of FIFA." 

    Are Murray's comments about Qatar in any way "politically neutral"? Was his support of Australia's World Cup bid "politically neutral"? Were his comments about Gulati "politically neutral"?  

    In my view, no. And this man was considered fit to sit in judgment of Bin Hammam? As Murray's example proves, FIFA's judges deserve to be judged as much as anyone else.

    And for an organisation that is desperately trying to restore its credibility, that's a major problem.  

    * Jesse Fink ( is a freelance journalist who covers world sport. Fink has been called "one of Asia's best football writers" by Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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