The case and its aftermath have highlighted how power works in global sports. It shows how a tainted Gulf royal linked to other cases of corruption has been able to exert significant control over one of soccer’s largest governing bodies even though he has no official role in its affairs. And it shows how a strategy of delay can be its own kind of injustice.
Mohamed’s case had roots in FIFA’s response to its own problems with discrimination: To address a lack of women on its governing board, the organization since 2013 set aside specific seats for women, starting with one voting member in 2013 and now a minimum of one from each of FIFA’s six regional confederations.
Mohamed, a former soccer player and coach from the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, had hoped to win the A.F.C.’s spot in a vote in Kuala Lumpur in April 2019. It did not take her long to realize that the power brokers of Asian soccer had already decided the election’s outcome.
She filed her first complaints about the election to the Asian confederation’s disciplinary department a month later. Emails show the organization responded to her inquiries by insisting it had begun an investigation, though it appears little was done. The A.F.C., citing confidentiality, refused to supply any evidence of its investigation to the court.
Then, at a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last July, the A.F.C. hardly put up a defense. Its lawyers offered no witnesses to challenge Mohamed’s testimony that a top confederation official and the head of the soccer federation of Qatar had been present in a luxury hotel suite when the Kuwaiti sheikh, Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, told Mohamed he had decided that his preferred candidate, Mahfuza Akhter Kiron of Bangladesh, would be elected as the A.F.C.’s female representative to the FIFA Council.
Mohamed was told she should drop her candidacy, and do so within 24 hours. She later claimed, in testimony that went unchallenged by the A.F.C., that Sheikh Ahmad attempted to mollify her by saying he had so much sway in international soccer circles that he could obtain for her “any other position of her choosing at the A.F.C. or FIFA” in exchange for her withdrawal.
By this point, Sheikh Ahmad had no official role in soccer, having resigned his own position on the FIFA Council in 2017 after allegations emerged in a United States federal court that he had bribed Asian officials. But Mohamed’s decision to take her case to court provided a rare public glimpse into his continuing stature as a power broker in global sports through his role as the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, an organization created by his father in 1982.