By Andrew Warshaw
March 8 – With just a week to go before the eagerly awaited latest meeting of its ruling Council in Miami, FIFA has banned one of the decision-making body’s elected members from all football duty for three months, making a mockery of the idea that corruption has been weeded out of the organisation.
Lee Harmon (pictured centre), vice-president of the Oceania Football Confederation, has been punished over the resale of tickets at last summer’s World Cup in Russia and also fined CHF 20,000.
FIFA said Harmon, president of the Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA), had “mutually agreed” the sanction with its ethics committee in a plea bargain following an investigation which began in July shortly after the tournament. He has been president of the tiny FIFA member nation since 1997 and a FIFA Council member since 2016.
The ban removes Harmon from the next two FIFA Council meetings, in Miami and Paris, as well as FIFA’s annual Congress on June 5 where Gianni Infantino is to be re-elected.
Ironically, the 37-strong FIFA Council was set up as one of the reform measures in the wake of the FifaGate scandal, replacing the old executive committee, which had been plagued with corruption, with a larger, supposedly more transparent and accountable body.
Harmon, 51, was one of three Oceania three representatives on the all-powerful Council, a role that reportedly brings an annual salary of £190,000 plus generous travel expenses.
His suspension is the second blow to hit the smallest of FIFA’s six confederations in a matter of days and overshadows the OFC congress this weekend which he is also banned from attending.
Earlier this week, almost a year after resigning as head of the OFC citing “personal reasons”, David Chung was banned for 6.5 years for financial wrongdoing, reportedly over the awarding of contracts for the construction of the OFC headquarters in New Zealand.
Chung, an important ally in Infantino’s 2016 FIFA presidential election victory, was thrown out for offering and accepting gifts as well as conflict of interest. Along with the ban, which comes into immediate effect, the former FIFA vice president and Council member was also fined CHF100,000.
Co-incidentally the main item on the OFC agenda this weekend is the election of a new president to replace Chung but Harmon won’t be there to take part. The front-runner is Lambert Maltock of Vanuatu who was named interim president last June.
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