Defiant minister rejects charges in marathon grilling

KUWAIT: Minister of Information and Youth Sheikh Salman Hmoud Al-Sabah smiles during a session of the National Assembly yesterday, during which he faced down a grilling filed against him over the sports ban. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Information and Youth Minister Sheikh Salman Al-Hmoud Al-Sabah yesterday brushed aside accusations that he caused the international suspension of Kuwaiti sports, and insisted that the government did what was needed and more to prevent the suspension. He was speaking during a marathon 10-hour heated grilling, after which 10 opposition lawmakers filed a no-confidence motion against him.

Sheikh Salman charged the 15-month ban was a result of a conspiracy hatched by some Kuwaitis who occupy senior positions in international organizations. He also defended personal attacks against him and stressed that he did not allow any concessions against Kuwait’s sovereignty. He denied the allegations made against him and said that he decided to face the grilling although some of its contents are against the Kuwaiti constitution.

The minister reiterated the suspension of Kuwaiti sports was the result of complaints from inside Kuwait, adding that the problem began from within Kuwait. He said international sports organizations, where Kuwaitis occupy senior positions, were the ones that suspended Kuwaiti sports bodies, while the ones without Kuwaiti officials did not suspend Kuwaiti federations.

The MPs who signed the no-confidence motion are Khaled Al-Otaibi, Nayef Al-Merdas, Mubarak Al-Hajraf, Marzouq Al-Khalifa, Shuwaib Al-Muwaizri, Mohammad Al-Mutair, Waleed Al-Tabtabaei, Abdulkarim Al-Kandari, Abdullah Fahhad and Thamer Al-Suwait. The voting on the motion will take place on Feb 8 and requires the support of 25 MPs in the 50-member house to pass. Cabinet ministers are not allowed to vote on no-confidence motions. If the motion receives the needed support, the minister will be automatically dismissed.

The three lawmakers who grilled the minister – Waleed Al-Tabtabaei, Al-Humaidi Al-Subaei and Abdulwahab Al-Babtain – charged the minister of focusing on personal struggles in the sports field rather than trying to lift the suspension. They insisted that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the world football controlling body FIFA have slapped sanctions on Kuwait because the government interfered in local sports and violated the Olympic Charter. The lawmakers also stressed that the government – represented by Sheikh Salman – ignored many ultimatums sent by the IOC and refused to amend sports legislation seen as interference in sports by IOC, FIFA and other international sports federations.

During the debate, Babtain accused the minister of causing the international sanctions on Kuwaiti sports, saying that he has failed to respect international laws and charters which Kuwait had signed in the early 1960s. He said that under the Olympic Charter, Kuwaiti laws dealing with sports must be compatible with international sports laws and before introducing any change to the Kuwaiti laws, the IOC must be consulted in advance.

Babtain said that the minister was responsible for changing sports legislation that brought about the international sanctions. He also disputed the minister’s argument that the IOC and FIFA decision was an act of interference in Kuwait’s sovereignty, saying that abiding by the Olympic Charter does not mean conceding sovereignty.

The lawmaker recalled a letter by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to the IOC in 2012 in which he pledged changes to the Kuwaiti legislation that enabled Kuwait to take part in the London Olympics. He asked whether the Amir’s action conceded the country’s sovereignty. Babtain also accused the minister of misleading the Kuwaiti people and the National Assembly by hiding some correspondence with IOC, adding that the IOC had asked the minister for a meeting two weeks before the suspension and he refused.

He said the minister has claimed that the suspension was caused by some Kuwaitis occupying positions in world sports bodies, but IOC clearly said in a letter on Oct 13, 2015 that the cause was contradictions between Kuwaiti sports laws and the Olympic Charter, adding that the minister did not disclose the letter to the Assembly. Babtain warned the minister that losing the cases filed against FIFA and IOC could result in the two bodies demanding compensation worth billions of dollars.

Subaei said that authorities in Kuwait have promised the IOC and FIFA to make the necessary amendments and did not fulfill their pledges. He cited several examples of countries like India, Iran and others that were forced to make legislative amendments to be compatible with the Olympic Charter. He charged that the minister has no plan to resolve the sports crisis and advised him to withdraw the two lawsuits against FIFA and IOC, and warned that Kuwait could end up paying a huge compensation.

Tabtabaei accused the minister of committing a large number of financial and administrative violations in the two ministries. He said that public freedoms have seriously deteriorated under the minister. He also cited a number of dubious contracts for which the ministry paid millions of dinars for what look like corrupt contracts.

By A Saleh