A suspended FA president is running unopposed. And why has Fifa’s Head of Member Associations Veron Mosengo-Omba travelled to Comoros in the middle of the pandemic to make sure the election goes ahead on 30 January?
By Philippe Auclair
Seen from the outside, this is encouraging news for the small Indian Ocean nation: after two years of strife, scandals and controversy, Comorian football will have a new FA president on 30 January. The normalisation committee (CoNor) set up by Fifa to run the island’s football affairs will then have fulfilled the mission it had been given on 23 October 2019 (*), and things will return to normal.
The problem is that this new ‘normality’ is nowhere near to be seen on the ground. The election should not take place, to start with. The member of the normalisation committee Fakriddine Youssouf Abdoulhalik has just died from COVID-19, and another member of CoNor, Adfaon Hamada Bacar, cannot leave the island of Moheli, where he resides, as all transport links have been suspended – which leaves three of the five members of the Committee to supervise the proceedings, which will take place in a country which has been hit by the South African variant and where the pandemic is running out of control.
Yet the annual general meeting of the FFC (the Comorian FA) will proceed on 30 January as planned, when all football games as well as the inauguration of a Fifa-financed synthetic pitch have been postponed. What’s more, all gatherings of more than 20 people are prohibited in the country. Around 70 delegates were supposed to attend the AGM. In this devout Muslim country, the situation is so dangerous that all mosques have been closed until further notice. What now?
How and why can the election go ahead in such circumstances? Several local sources have told Josimar it is “because FIFA wants it to happen, and will make sure it does”, pointing out that its Head of Member Associations (and longtime friend and enabler of Gianni Infantino’s) Veron Monsengo-Omba arrived in the capital Moroni in the afternoon of 28 January, pandemic notwithstanding, to make sure everything would be going according to plan. Mosengo-Omba was accompanied by Djibouti FA president Souleiman Hassan Waberi, representing CAF, and, according to our information, was scheduled to meet with the president of the Comoros Azali Assoumani on the evening of his arrival, which has yet to be reported in local media.
The problem is also that the new ‘normality’ looks an awful lot like the old one when looked at more closely.
To start with, we already know who will be the ‘new’ FFC president: Said Ali Said Athouman, as he is the only man who was allowed to stand by Fifa-appointed normalisation commitee. This is the same Said Ali Said Athouman whose suspension by his own Ethics Committee precipitated the crisis in the summer of 2019, as we shall see. He will run unopposed after the CoNor invalidated the bids of the two other declared candidates, Said Abdallah Salim, a former special advisor on youth and sports to the President of the Comoros who is also the chairman of the Rapide Club de Moroni, and Mahmoud Aboud, former Comoros ambassador to China and to the USA.
Two heavyweights, but so is Athouman, the scion of an influential political family (his father served as a minister) who’d been a close collaborator of the former FFC president Tourqui Salim for a decade before succeeding him in 2018. Athouman, a decent attacking midfielder in his day, is a good friend of currently suspended CAF president Ahmad Ahmad: he was among the eighteen Muslim football administrators who accompanied (all expenses paid) Ahmad on his ‘Umrah’ – a pilgrimage to Mecca which was paid for by CAF, and whose financing was one of the key reasons why Fifa’s Ethics Committee imposed a 5-year ban on Ahmad on 23 November, 2020.
Athouman is also said to be a supporter of Gianni Infantino (unlike his mentor Salim Tourqui, who backed Sheikh Salman in the 2016 Fifa presidential election), whom he visited in Zurich in January 2019, a trip from which he did not come back empty-handed: Fifa awarded the Comoros FA a 295,000 US dollars grant which Athouman split among the First Division clubs of the archipelago – whose chairmen also happened to have voting rights in the FFC General Assembly. Josimar has found no other example of a Fifa Forward grant being used in that fashion anywhere else in the world.
Opponents of Athouman’s have described to Josimar this distribution of Fifa money as a ‘bribe’, and Josimar was told that an investigation into the matter had been launched by the local gendarmerie; but, ‘bribe’ or not, it is not because of Athouman’s largesse with Fifa funds that he was banned by own FA’s Ethics Committee: it is because he had single-handedly decided which Comorian club would take part in the UAFA Cup, a non-Fifa competition which is open to teams from the Arab-speaking world. He nominated one of the clubs he happened to have played for, Volcan, rather the new champion, Fomboni FC, who immediately called on the FFC Ethics Committee to intervene.
Athouman was banned for three months – and retaliated by…dissolving the Ethics Committee which had just banned him, at which point Fifa intervened. But it did not intervene to put a stop to Athouman’s rule. The consequence of its intervention was the complete opposite: it oversaw the process by which the normalisation committee it appointed will enable the banned president to resume his rule over Comorian football. To do this, all the CoNor had to do was to ensure that no-one would stand in Athouman’s way. So it did; and how it did it borders on the surreal.
All candidates had to demonstrate that they had the support of at least nine officials involved in Comorian football, none of these officials being allowed to endorse more than one candidate. Josimar was told that Athouman somehow got hold of the sponsorship forms ahead of the date at which they were supposed to be available and proceeded to hoover as many signatures as he could – 315 in total, it appears, when only 9 were needed. Yet both his opponents managed to gather the support they needed – or so they thought (*).
The next step was the validation of the bids by the Fifa-appointed CoNor, whose five members were to meet on 5 January to decide whether they conformed to the statutes or not (statutes which the CoNor had forgotten to pass on to the Comoros Ministry of Sports as required by law and whose legality is in doubt as a result). The CoNor met on the prescribed date and rejected the bids of Mahmoud Aboud and Said Salim Abdallah on the grounds that some of their sponsors did not meet the right criteria.
This, however, is not quite how it went. The CoNor did meet, but not all of it, despite the signatures which appear on the minutes of the meeting and appear to show all of its five members took part in the deliberation. As we’ve seen, one of them, Adfaon Hamada Bacar, is a resident of Mohéli island, which had been put in quarantine since 28 December; since all inter-islands transport had been suspended, he could not have attended the CoNor meeting in person, as it took place in Moroni. Neither could another member, Souleymane Soudjay, who’d been in France from 24 December until 9 January. How then could they sign the document (which Josimar has seen) which barred Abdullah and Aboud from running for the presidency?
Be as it was, the rejected candidates had three days to appeal against the decision, and intended to do so, as they believed they could prove that they both had gathered the nine signatures required. But the CoNor decided that no such appeal would be heard. If the rejected candidates had complaints to make, they should now turn to Lausanne’s Court of Arbitration For Sport, a time-consuming and costly exercise which neither was in a position to contemplate.
Aboud and Abdallah had their lawyer write to the Chairman of the FFC’s Ethics Committee on 20 January and request the annulment of the CoNor’s decision. No answer has yet been forthcoming. It is now too late to stop Athoumane resuming his rule.
And this is how things will go back to ‘normal’ on Comoros on 30 January. Fifa’s Veron Mosengo-Omba will be able to express his best wishes to Said Ali Said Athouman, the banned president who, ultimately, wasn’t. Exactly as planned.
(*) The task of this normalisation committee, which is directly overseen by Gianni Infantino’s éminence grise Véron Mosengo-Omba, was to revise the statutes, electoral code and ethics of the Comoros FA [the FFC] and its three leagues, in order to bring them in line with Fifa statutes and regulations, then “to organise and supervise elections at all levels of the FFC.
(*) Mr Fahardine Mroivili Mohamed, Sports Director of Volcan football club and Campaign Director of Said Ali Said Athuman’s campaign, wrote to Josimar to state the following: “The regulations of the Comoros FA state that, to be a candidate to the FA’s presidency, nine endorsements from the member associations are needed. According to the FFC statutes, these members are: the clubs, the referees’ association and the coaches’ association. We have 325 women’s and men’s clubs in Comoros. Candidate Said Ali Said Athouman received 315 endorsements, candidate Mahmoud 11 (6 FFC members plus individuals including 3 coaches and 2 referees) and candidate Said Abdallah Salim 13 (6 FFC members, 5 coaches and 2 referees). Endorsements are void when they are issued to more than one candidate, which was the case for several of Mahmoud’s and Salim’s endorsements. The referees’ and the coaches’ associations each count as a single member, but [the candidates] had such a limited understanding of the statutes that they did not pay attention to their wording”.