Shortly after FIFA's Ethics Committee handed Asian Football Confederation President Mohammad Bin Hammam a lifetime ban for playing Santa Claus to a bunch of Caribbean Island football administrators, the AFC held a meeting of their Executive Committee to decide how to handle the somewhat embarrassing vacancy at the top of their organizational chart. On the one hand, some officials thought - not unreasonably - that since their President had been "banned for life" by FIFA that the thing to do would be to hold a new election, a position which seems very much in line with both common sense and AFC statutes.
I'm guessing that, among others, the Bahraini official whose head Bin Hammam said he was going to "chop off" last year was in this camp.
Still, the Qatari had a lot of old friends left, and they fought vigorously to postpone any ballot until the appeals process had been exhausted, saying that it was the only fair thing to do.
For his part, MBH begged them not to replace him, and Acting President Zhang Jilong of China - not widely considered to be a heavyweight but well respected in his own right - seemed to be on his side.
In the end, rather than have an ugly and destructive fight over the thing, they did what FIFA and it's related organizations do so very well: they agreed to a lie.
AFC statutes specify that the office of President may not stand open for more than 12 months. It's quite clear and the reasons are obvious. The ExCo, however, agreed to pretend that what the rule really means is that if there's a vacancy the office MUST stand open for 12 months before elections can be held.
You have to give them a lot of credit for being able to announce this to the media with a straight face.
Seriously, who would make a rule that says if the head guy goes down over the Caribbean in his Gulfstream VII or is banned from football for life or someone chops off his head - just to pick some circumstances at random - that you have to wait 12 months before being allowed to replace him? What would be the logic behind that? You wanted to give the doctors enough time to find a cure for beheading?
Nonetheless, agreeing to this fraud allowed everyone to save face and was quite clearly a big win for Bin Hammam, whose partisans agreed, in return, to formally confirm Zhang as the Acting President until next May.
You might expect Bin Hammam to be grateful for this show of support. And you'd be wrong.
The ink was barely dry on the media release announcing the deal when, on August 19, Mo's uber-pricey Zurich lawyers hopped the train over to Lausanne and asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (technically La Tribunal Arbitral du Sport or TAS) to order the AFC to toss Zhang out and hand MBH back both the Presidency of the AFC and his old seat on FIFA's Executive Committee.
Note that this isn't part of Mo's appeal of the FIFA ban; he wasn't allowed to file that until after the FIFA procedures were exhausted. This was an entirely separate motion, filed before FIFA's Appeals Committee even met.
Basically, it was a repudiation of the deal his own friends had brokered to keep the job open for him.
Yesterday the TAS - we're nothing if not strictly cosmospolitan around here - refused to go grant his motion.
If you're keeping score at home, that's now four straight losses for BinHammy, although in fairness he has yet to actually appear personally - anyplace on Earth - and answer a couple of questions. He sends in his army of white shoe mouthpieces to toss reams of paper around various hearing rooms, but he limits himself to posting pouty, childish and borderline paranoid missives on his old campaign website.
As for his old friends at the AFC, it would appear that they didn't appreciate being stabbed in the back by a guy they thought they were doing a favor for, as they made clear in their media release:
"The CAS appeal of Mr Bin Hammam challenged Mr Jilong’s designation as AFC Acting President, and nomination by the AFC Executive Committee to the FIFA Executive Committee. Mr Bin Hammam requested the CAS to annul the AFC Executive Committee’s decision and recognise only himself (Mr Bin Hammam) as the AFC President and representative on the FIFA Executive Committee. Mr Bin Hammam also requested a stay order (provisional measures) pending the final CAS hearing.
AFC has strictly followed the AFC Statutes at all times in relation to Mr Jilong’s designation as AFC Acting President and nomination to the FIFA Executive Committee. Hence, AFC welcomes the CAS decision on provisional measures and is confident of its prospects of success at the CAS hearing on the merits of the appeal."
They also note, with more than a hint of obvious satisfaction:
"The CAS decision to dismiss Mr Bin Hammam’s request for a provisional stay is a procedural order and not an award, meaning that it is not subject to further appeal."
The real issue of course is not who gets to sit in an office someplace listening to long boring phone calls from some official in Malaysia complaining about the qualifying schedule or someone from Singapore griping about getting screwed by a corrupt referee. It's a reasonably sure thing that he'd be more than happy to let Zhang Jilong handle all that sort of thing.
What Bin Hammam wanted, what he was truly after, was that ExCo seat.
There's a quarterly meeting in Zurich in a couple of weeks and he'd give anything to be able to show up ready to take his place around that massive table with the $10,000 designer leather chairs, presenting FIFA and his old BFF Sepp, with a real dilemma:
Do you defy the CAS and keep him out of the building, thereby handing him a massive lawsuit on a silver platter? Or do you allow someone who is supposedly serving a "lifetime ban from football" to take a seat on world football's ultimate governing body?
It would have been delicious.