TOKYO (AP) — The corruption case involving a powerful IOC member promised to sow confusion as 206 national Olympic committees — known by the acronym ANOC — started two days of meetings in Tokyo on Wednesday.
It did just that and offered some good theater.
Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad as Sabah, known as the “Olympic Kingmaker,” had stepped down temporarily earlier in the week as the president of ANOC. He said he needed to fight a criminal case in Switzerland, and was also reportedly pressured to step aside by the International Olympic Committee.
Because of the corruption case, the Kuwaiti sheikh last week also suspended himself from his 26-year IOC membership.
The sheikh is accused by Geneva public prosecutors of forgery in an alleged faked arbitration case involving four others. He is also a long-time ally of IOC President Thomas Bach. Many credit him with swinging votes to get Bach elected in 2013.
The sheikh was up for re-election to the ANOC presidency — unopposed — but asked the membership on Wednesday to leave the post vacant while he fights his court case.
In the end, that’s what happened with no date set for the presidential election. In the meantime, senior vice president Robin Mitchell of Fiji will be in charge.
In a lengthy debate, dozens of members urged him to run, defying the wishes of Bach and the IOC, which has been embarrassed by recent corruption cases.
The sheikh told about 1,400 delegates of his wishes in the morning, clenching his fist to make a point, or waving a finger for emphasis.
But he had to return in the afternoon to make his case again.
“You missed me, I missed you,” he quipped to start his second address.
“I will be there for you all the time,” the sheikh told delegates, hinting he’ll still be running the show. “You will see this face, you will never miss the face. Don’t worry. I request you accept my position.”
They finally did in a voice vote. It’s unclear when an election will be held.
Sheikh Ahamd has developed a solid power base since taking over ANOC as the interim president in 2012.
His power rests on smaller countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Many of those delegates rose to his defense on Wednesday in a cavernous meeting room in a central Tokyo hotel.
No ANOC members from North America or Europe spoke publicly on his behalf.
His supporters — from Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Peru and Papua New Guinea, to name a few — said his court case was a personal issue. And they also pointed out he’s innocent until proven guilty.
“You must have the presumption of innocence, and we do not believe what is happening right how is fair play,” said Nasser Majali, the general secretary of the Jordanian national Olympic committee. “Sheikh has our respect and friendship for the excellence he has brought to ANOC.”
Maxwell De Silva, general secretary from Sri Lanka, asked the sheikh to stand for re-election, then step aside if he wanted to. He said ANOC “was a dead body” until the sheikh took over.
“This is a personal issue, it has nothing to do with sports,” De Silva told fellow delegates. “He has done a tremendous job in raising the profile of ANOC in the world.”
The IOC has published a document from its own ethics commission written last week assessing the forgery case and a possible five-year prison sentence.
The sheikh’s trial is expected to start in the first half of next year.
The IOC’s ethics commission is also under scrutiny.
The commission is chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Meanwhile, the Ban Ki-moon Center for Global Citizens has an IOC employee on his board — IOC director general Christophe De Kepper.
The Ban Ki-Moon center is also reported to be receiving its funding from the governments of Kuwait and Austria.
Ban has recused himself from the Sheikh Ahmad case.
ANOC’s general assembly also viewed presentations for the 2026 Winter Olympic from Stockholm and the Italian partnership of Milan and Cortina. They are the lone candidates after Calgary withdrew earlier this month.
The IOC will choose the venue next year.