The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), on Wednesday, concluded that President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah exerted undue influence over an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) election for FIFA Council seats.
The appeal was filed in 2020 by head of the Football Association of Maldives (FAM)'s women’s department and member of the AFC Women's Committee, Mariyam Mohamed.
During the vote conducted on April 6, 2019 in Malaysia, Mariyam contested for the seat reserved for women among Asia’s delegates on the 37-member FIFA Council.
After losing the election, Mariyam filed a formal complaint with the AFC, accusing OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of exerting undue influence over the polls.
In her letter to AFC’s election oversight committee, Mariyam stated that she was summoned to a meeting ahead of the election, during which the OCA president informed her that she had no future in football if she stayed in the election against the candidate he supported, Mahfuza Akhter Kiron from Bangladesh.
Mariyam's legal representation from Dechert LLP filed two appeals on her behalf. The first of which alleged that the 2019 AFC Elections indirectly discriminated against women, while the second asserted that the elections were corrupt and that AFC’s failure to adequately investigate the case amounted to a denial of justice.
Although CAS did not name the Kuwaiti sheikh, the court ruled that the AFC election was "subject to improper influence".
Furthermore, the court stated that AFC had failed to grant protection from gender discrimination and that the AFC commission’s failure to conduct an investigation was a "denial of justice".
However, CAS judges went on to highlight that the inducements offered to Mariyam "were not effective" since she "did not withdraw her candidature".
"In that respect, while the panel found the third-party interference established, it underlined that it did not, in the end, have an effect on the elections", stated CAS.
Therefore, despite ruling in favour of both of Mariyam's arguments, CAS stated that it did not have the authority to annul the election or order a re-run and asserted that the power to do so rests with the AFC Congress.
CAS also ordered the AFC to contribute towards Mariyam's legal costs and pay 75 percent of arbitration costs.
"These are landmark decisions. First of all, the appeals vindicate Ms Mohamed, whose allegations were all upheld. It is never easy to come forward with serious allegations against established interests and have the courage to see them through. She deserves enormous credit", stated Dechert LLP's Singapore-based partner Mark Mangan.
"It is difficult to prove a denial of justice, corruption, which by definition lurks in the shadows, or indeed gender discrimination, let alone prove all three in the one set of related proceedings in a hearing conducted remotely. Thus, the appeals represent a significant triumph in the struggle for diversity and transparency in sports governance, particularly here in Asia. It is a good day for Ms Mohamed and international arbitration".
Sheikh Ahmad has previously faced numerous accusations of corruption and misconduct. In November 2018, he resigned as head of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) and member of the International Olympic Committee after being accused of a forgery case in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 2017, a US federal court implicated Sheikh Ahmad in bribing Asian soccer officials to influence elections.