Paris Olympic Bid Leader Willing to Work With Accused Sheikh

  • Kuwaiti Sheikh lost soccer posts after corruption allegations
  • Games bidder Los Angeles also won’t shun powerbroker al-Sabah

Paris’s Olympic bid leader joined his Los Angeles counterpart in saying he’d continue dealing with a sports powerbroker facing allegations of corruption, a sign that politics will be as vital as slick presentations when it comes to picking the host of the 2024 Summer Games.

Like Los Angeles’s bid chairman Casey Wasserman, Tony Estanguet, co-chair of Paris 2024, declined to publicly condemn Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah. The Kuwaiti resigned from multiple soccer roles, including a seat on FIFA’s highest body, in response to being identified in soccer bribery and corruption case in the U.S. He’s vowed to prove his innocence.

Al-Sabah, who is the head of the Association of National Olympic Committees, remains the chair of the IOC’s solidarity committee, a group that is responsible for handing out $500 million in development funds. Estanguet also sits on that panel, along with Husain Al Musallam, a vice president of swimming’s governing body, who was also identified in the corruption case. He also denies wrongdoing.

"Until he has been proven guilty, I will continue to work with him," Estanguet said in a interview, shortly after a press conference to mark the last visit to Paris by a team of IOC inspectors. They will publish a report in July, when rules may be changed to split the 2024 and 2028 games between Paris and Los Angeles.

The sheikh said he wouldn’t be commenting beyond a statement in which he denied any wrongdoing.

The inspection team’s visit to Paris comes amid ongoing inquiries into potential corruption in previous Games bids. That inquiry has led to former Olympic sprinter Frankie Fredericks to step down from his role as the head of the 2024 Olympic inspection team to clear his name after allegations of wrongdoing.

Al-Sabah has referred himself to the IOC’s ethics committee. Patrick Baumann, the new head of the inspection team, said the group is looking into the affair. The sheikh’s many roles in sports give him an oversize position in the races to host events. He’s credited with helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013 and provided the backing that lifted Tokyo above its rivals to stage the next summer Olympics in 2020.

"I have enjoyed my conversations and interaction with the sheikh at various events we have both been at," Wasserman told reporters in London earlier this month. "I have no doubt, as with every other IOC member at any event we would be at, that there is a chance to continue our interactions."

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, of Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. In his guilty plea, he told court the money was used to buy influence and identify other officials that could be bribed.

Estanguet, a four-time Olympian with three gold medals in canoeing, said there must be doubts about the sheikh’s involvement in any corruption since al-Sabah retains his posts. He said the Kuwaiti didn’t need to step down while the inquiry is ongoing.

"I support the situation so far," he said.

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