Power struggle seen at the heart of Kuwait sports saga
KUWAIT: A lingering sports crisis in Kuwait that triggered international sanctions is seen as part of a power struggle in the state, analysts say. Over a year ago, world sports bodies led by the International Olympic Committee and world football’s FIFA suspended Kuwait over alleged government interference in sports for the second time since 2010. According to world sports organizations, the suspension was due to legislation issued in 2014 and 2015 allowing the government to interfere in local sports federations and undermine the independence of the sports movement.
As a result, the state was barred from taking part in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Shooter Fehaid Al-Deehani, who won a gold medal, the first ever by a Kuwaiti athlete at the Olympics, had to compete as an independent and was not allowed to carry his country’s flag due to the ban. However, that could change after Kuwait’s new parliament - elected last month with opposition MPs taking nearly half the seats - called on the government “to do what is necessary to lift the suspension on sport”.
In a possible sign of progress, Information and Youth Minister Sheikh Salman Humoud Al-Sabah told MPs last week that the government was ready to sit down “with FIFA or any other side provided that does not breach Kuwait’s sovereignty or constitution”. A neutral group appears to have emerged in the new parliament pushing for an end to the suspension.
“The problem of sports in Kuwait is that it is being used as a tool in the power struggle,” political analyst Nasser Al-Abdali told AFP. Huge public funds pumped into sports could also be a factor, according to Abdali, who heads the Kuwait Society for the Promotion of Democracy. The sports authority said last year that the government spent KD 400 million ($1.3 billion) on sports in the past five years.
Sheikh Salman had directly accused “Kuwaitis in international sports” of causing the suspension through complaints they sent to world sports bodies. The old parliament passed legislation in June boosting the government’s influence in sports which was used by the government to dissolve the country’s Olympic committee, the football federation and several other federations.
“Those laws are personal and violate international sports charters,” said leading Kuwaiti sports journalist Faisal Al-Qanai, Qanai, who is also vice president of the International Press Sports Association. Leading Kuwaiti sports critic Mutlaq Nassar however argues that the new laws do not contradict international sports charters. “Legislation was introduced to reduce the influence of corrupt forces and reform the sports movement which was being misused for personal gains,” Nassar told AFP. Qanai however said that “all Kuwait needs to do is to amend the violating laws and the suspension will be lifted within 24 hours”. — AFP