IOC demands changes in Kuwaiti law before removing sports ban

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach © Denis Balibouse
The International Olympic Committee has asked the Kuwait government to change the sports law that caused the country to be banned from international competitions before the IOC considers removing its sports ban.

Kuwait was suspended on October 27 for the second time in five years over government interference in the country's Olympic Committee.

The sports ministry also ordered the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to vacate its headquarters in Kuwait by April 2016. The head of the OCA is Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, an influential IOC member.

“The Olympic Movement in Kuwait has faced a number of issues to preserve its autonomy, in particular due to recently amended sports legislation in Kuwait,” the IOC said.

The IOC met the government and the Kuwait Olympic Committee on October 12 in an effort to resolve the issue over a piece of sports legislation that was seen as threatening the autonomy of the Olympic body but the talks proved fruitless.

Speaking in October after the ban was announced, Sheikh Ahmad had said that he couldn’t understand why Kuwait would now establish a law that goes back on the ruler’s pledge to the IOC.

“I think it’s related to politics, because the sports minister has lost an election to the president of shooting,” he said.

“As a Kuwaiti I am very sad. All of us are upset. It’s a very sad story. It’s human mistakes.”

Local media reports confirmed that a court had issued a six-month suspended prison sentence to Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah for quoting remarks by the country's ruler without permission.

The Sheikh is a senior member of the ruling family, a former oil minister, member of the FIFA executive committee, honorary president of the KFA and president of the Association of National Olympic Committees. As such, he holds considerable sway in the 47-member Asian Football Confederation as well as in the IOC.

The Kuwaiti constitution describes Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah as "immune and inviolable" and quoting him without permission from his court is punishable under their law.

IOC president Thomas Bach, in Budapest to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, said the prison sentence was a separate issue from the sports law.

"This is justice in Kuwait, it's nothing to do with the sports law or sport," Bach said. "The IOC will respect the law of a sovereign country, but we will insist on our worry that the sports law is in compliance."

"I think this is also in the interest of the Kuwait authorities and the Kuwaiti athletes to ensure this compliance and not forcing their other federations to escalate the issue. If the suspension is not lifted before next year’s Olympics in Rio, Kuwaiti athletes would be barred from representing their country at the games.They have to come to the table. The IOC has always made it clear it is ready to address the various stipulations of the law that need to be changed," said Bach.

Kuwait was previously banned over a similar dispute in 2010 but was eventually reinstated before the 2012 London Olympics after the Kuwaiti government pledged autonomy for the Olympic committee and promised new legislation for institutions governing sports.

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In recent years the IOC has also suspended the national Olympic bodies of India, Ghana and Panama for political interference, though all were eventually reinstated. The Sri Lankan Olympic body is also currently under threat of suspension and have been given a deadline till the end of 2015 to revise its sports legislation.

Kuwait's football association has previously been banned for government interference by FIFA in 2007 and 2008, and was banned by FIFA for a third time in October 2015 over government interference.

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