Power strug­gle seen at the heart of Kuwait sports saga

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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