Catching a political bullet from unfriendly fire

It may now be old news rather than fake news and have been somewhat overshadowed by subsequent events in Bahrain but was the invisible hand of the biggest figure in Asian sport behind the surprise election of a relatively unknown candidate to become Asia’s female representative on the FIFA Council last Monday?

Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah was known to be supportive of Bangladesh’s Mahfuza Ahkter Kiron before resigning from all his footballing roles after bring drawn into the biggest corruption scandal to hit the sport.

If rumours are to be believed, his influence still carries considerable weight within Asian football circles.  There is even some speculation that Sheikh Ahmad was in Bahrain when the Asian Football Confederation held its regional congress where the vote for FIFA Council members took place.

Ahmad, for the record, was all but named in US court documents when former Guam football president Richard Lai recently pleaded guilty to have taken bribes. Lai was still an active member of the Asian Football Confederation until his guilty plea, even attending a gathering of East Asian representatives in Shanghai before flying to the US to face court action.  Could he, as well as Sheikh Ahmad, have had a role in engineering Kiron’s victory earlier this week? Or was it simply that Asian delegates preferred a more equitable geo-political spread?

One thing is clear. Within hours of her 27-17 victory over Moya Dodd, Fifa’s newest female representative, who had an argument with the media in her own country back in February and is as insular as Dodd is outgoing, showed her embarrassing lack of knowledge by struggling to name the current women’s world champions.

Asked by the BBC to name the current Women’s World Cup holders, Kiron named USA at the third attempt after first answering “Korea” and “Japan” .

“This is very disappointing,” said two-time World Cup winner Carli Lloyd, perhaps understandably since she is a big fan of Dodd, a former Australia international who had served on FIFA’s executive committee as a co-opted member between 2013 and 2016 and was a committed supporter  of reform.

Dodd still holds a number of different roles, not least on the AFC’s executive committee, but could not disguise her feelings.

“Naturally it is disappointing,” Dodd said on her Facebook page amid suggestions that her Australian nationality may have worked against her.  Others surmised she may have been too smart – and by association too dangerous – for her own good.

“I’d hoped I had done enough in the few years I was part of Fifa to persuade people that I should have another shot at it. I had hoped too, through my policies and track record at FIFA, to persuade enough voting delegates to give me the job, but clearly that wasn’t the case. That said, I’m proud of the contribution I made – with others – in FIFA over recent years, most especially through the FIFA Women’s Football Taskforce.”

Despite all this, Dodd joins a long line of prominent women’s football experts to have left FIFA over the years for various reasons: figures like  Tatjana Haenni who was head of women’s competitions; and Karen Espelund ,  a member of the FIFA Committee for womens’ football. It is hard to think of two more respected individuals in women’s football circles.

Several sources have privately admitted that while Dodd was by far the most qualified candidate,  elections don’t always work that way. Twas ever thus. Politics rules. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to learn that.

Whatever the political agenda,  if indeed there was one, the FIFA Council lost a potentially valuable contributor. How about this tweet from US international striker Alex Morgan reacting to Kiron’s lack of knowledge. “You must be (expletive) kidding me”.

Not exactly diplomatic, perhaps. But it summed up the feelings of many.

 

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball and was formerly Sports Editor of the European. Contact him at moc.l1501007760labto1501007760ofdlr1501007760owedi1501007760sni@w1501007760ahsra1501007760w.wer1501007760dna1501007760