Corruption, doping issues aired at global Olympic meeting
IOC President Thomas Bach addresses delegates during the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
By Karel Janicek, Associated Press
PRAGUE (AP) — Allegations of corruption and doping were on the minds of national Olympic leaders at their annual gathering on Thursday.
The Association of National Olympic Committees assembly was presided over by Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait in a rare public appearance since being implicated six months ago in an American investigation of bribery linked to FIFA.
Senior ANOC official Julio Maglione said its ruling committee "unanimously cleared" the sheikh of wrongdoing, and led delegates in applauding him.
Sheikh Ahmad, an influential International Olympic Committee member who skipped recent meetings in Switzerland and Peru, said he was "delighted to continue as sport is my life."
Officials met one day after an International Olympic Committee panel investigating an alleged Russian doping conspiracy at the 2014 Sochi Olympics found athletes guilty in its first two cases. The rulings finally upheld claims and evidence about Sochi detailed last year by a Russian whistleblower and World Anti-Doping Agency investigator.
IOC President Thomas Bach described the case on Thursday as a "direct attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games."
Still, Bach was also forceful in attacking critics of the IOC who have demanded severe sanctions for Russia before case verdicts were reached.
"It is unacceptable that specific sanctions are already being demanded in public domain before due process," said Bach, who did not name his target.
A group of national anti-doping agencies, including the United States and United Kingdom, wants the IOC to expel Russia from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Bach reiterated on Thursday that a decision on Russia's participation should be taken by the IOC board he chairs at a Dec. 5-7 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Before then, more verdicts in Sochi doping cases are expected from the IOC panel.
The IOC leader said it was a "human right" to get due process and noted: "Always think how you would react if you were alleged of some wrongdoings."
Bach's plea for fairness was heard by the watching Sheikh Ahmad, who is under investigation by the ethics committees of the IOC and FIFA. He continues to lead an IOC committee with a $500 million budget to support Olympic bodies and athletes.
Since rising to lead ANOC in 2012 as the long-time Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president, Sheikh Ahmad has built his reputation as an Olympic power broker. He has often been dubbed the IOC "kingmaker."
The Prague meetings have been the sheikh's highest profile return to sports politics since he was identified in U.S. federal court as paying bribes to gain influence with Asian soccer officials.
On April 27, a FIFA audit committee member from Guam pleaded guilty to various corruption charges. In a Brooklyn court, Richard Lai admitted receiving $850,000 in bribes from 2009 to 2014 from a faction of Kuwaiti officials. Some of the money was wired from an OCA account.
Sheikh Ahmad was not named in court, though in published transcripts Lai said he knew the money originated from "co-conspirator 2" — also referred to as the OCA president who later became a FIFA executive committee member.
Within days, the Kuwaiti royal withdrew from an election to retain his FIFA role while his eligibility as a candidate was under further review.
The sheikh denied wrongdoing and has not been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, he did not attend meetings of the full IOC membership in July in Switzerland and in September in Peru, which were key to naming Paris and Los Angeles as future Olympic hosts.
On Thursday, he won support from Maglione, the head of swimming governing body FINA whose Kuwaiti vice president was identified as "co-conspirator 3" in Brooklyn court.
Maglione says he "took all the requisite action" to dispel doubts about Sheikh Ahmad.