Christer Ahl: Agreements between the IHF President and Asian President opened the way for the fraud in Olympic Qualifying.

In the first part of the interview Christer Ahl discussed the fundamental problems with IHF Management. In this, the second and final part of the interview, Ahl discusses the alleged misdeeds which have been previously reported.

John Ryan (JR): Let's discuss some of the officiating allegations that are frequently mentioned. The Sport Arbitration Court’s (CAS) report on Asian Olympic Qualification implies that Dr Moustafa purposely side-stepped the Playing Rules and Competition (PRC) Committee in the replacement of the German refs with the inexperienced Jordanian refs for the Kuwait-Korea match. What is your specific knowledge in regards to Dr Moustafa's involvement?

Christer Ahl (CA): Well, it really started with the Women’s Qualifications. I had been asked to nominate a referee couple, and the IHF had also nominated a supervisor. Just a few days before the event started, these nominations were abruptly cancelled. When I inquired, I was told by the then Managing IHF Director, Frank Birkefeld, that the President of the Asia Handball Federation (AHF) had reminded the IHF President of their agreement that no supervisor or referees would be sent. The referees were instead nominated and supervised by the Asian referee chief, Dawud Tawakoli. So it was frustrating when later on the Korean and Japanese teams started protesting.

For the Men’s Qualifying, we nominated one top couple to handle the critical matches. The IHF Managing Director sent a letter to the Asian Federation emphasizing that this couple, of course, should referee the KOR-KUW match. I assumed that everything was in order and was shocked to find out that this key match had been played on the first day but with some Jordanian referees. And, of course, I became seriously concerned when I started finding the reports and videos of the scandalous refereeing on the internet. Only a while later, did I learn that the IHF President had said that “he had been forced to withdraw the nomination because it had been announced too far in advance”. This is, of course, a totally silly explanation, as everyone in Asia took for granted that the visiting European referees would handle this critical match. And then, during my appearance as the only IHF witness in the CAS Tribunal, I found that the Asians had testified that the withdrawal in fact was caused by yet another reminder from the AHF President to the IHF President about what they had agreed, namely that the Asians should have free hands to manage the refereeing in this event. That they used this to hand-pick an ineligible and incompetent couple to handle the top match is another story.

JR: The Women’s tournament took place in August, the Men’s tournament in September, but it wasn’t until December 2008 that the IHF publicly acknowledged that there might have been some problems with the qualification tournaments. Arguably, this is the biggest crisis ever to afflict the IHF. Why did it take so long to respond?

CA: Yes, this was a concern for me also, as it involved refereeing and caused a number of people to contact me for explanations that I was not in a position to provide. Through the IHF Office I pressed for faster action, but I had the distinct sense that the Executive Committee did not want to touch the issue and preferred to dump it on the Council. Finally, in mid-November, I was asked to arrange for a review and analysis of the video. With the help of two PRC members I provided both a chronological analysis and rather blunt written conclusion.

JR: Your commentary, as depicted in the CAS report, on the officiating of the Korea-Kuwait match is pretty stark and compelling as to the degree the officials fixed the match. I’ve seen portions of the match and it truly is disgraceful and a black eye for the sport. What was the reaction of Dr Moustafa and others when they saw the video?

CA: I do not know who saw the video at an earlier stage and how they might have reacted. But you may find it hard to believe that the Council never watched any part of the video. At the meeting I described the results of our analysis and also quoted extensively from my conclusions. My explanations must have been rather convincing, because, much to my amazement, it was declared unnecessary to watch any part of the video. I must say that, as the CAS Tribunal sharply criticized, the meeting process did not match the severity of the issue. For instance, the analysis and conclusions had not been provided in advance, the Asians were not fully forewarned, there was no legal guidance available, and the meeting was poorly run, to put it mildly. A highlight was when suddenly the AHF president phoned in to the IHF president, seemingly in order to influence our discussions….

JR: The IHF ordered replay tournaments, but the AHF didn’t sit idly by and they filed suit against the IHF. And it was eventually agreed to let the CAS rule on appropriateness of the Council’s decisions. You indicated earlier that you were the only IHF witness at the CAS Tribunal. The text of the CAS report also implies that the arbitrators were pretty frustrated that the principal players involved did not testify. Why were you the only one to testify?

CA: I was rather baffled already prior to the Tribunal when I found from the IHF Office that I was essentially the only one submitting background information for our lawyers, even if I was not the person in the best position to do so for all the aspects. And then I was amazed to find upon arrival in Lausanne that I was the only witness from the IHF. Especially the fact that Sasha Kozhukov was missing seemed strange. I never got an explanation. The IHF President was available, but the IHF lawyers indicated that they believed his testimony could be more damaging than helpful to the case of the IHF, so they advised him to stay out. What it meant was that I was the only one who could offer IHF’s argument regarding both the whole chain of events and especially the process at the Council meeting.

JR: Aside from the Asian Olympic Qualification tournament there are reports that Moustafa and Roca have intervened in the assignment of officials at the Olympics and other contests. Can you confirm this?

CA: This has been asserted in the media lately and it must be based on some misunderstanding. I need to split my answer into two parts. First, the PRC nominations of couples to a specific event have to be approved by the Executive Committee under our regulations. On some occasions, they have insisted on changes to these nominations, like prior to the Olympics last year. Ironically, the couple the Executive Committee inserted went on to perform in such a way that the PRC and the IHF President had to decide together immediately after the Olympics to eliminate this couple for all future competitions. The second part refers to nominations during an event. Regulations dictate that the Competition Management, which includes one or two Executive Members together with the PRC president and perhaps someone else, must approve the proposals for each match from the PRC. Normally this goes smoothly without much debate and with very few changes. But in Beijing it was terrible. The number of changes requested by Roca or Kozhukov (NOT the President) was unreasonably high and led to many chain reactions, where several other matches had to be changed also. All in all a very high proportion of the matches were affected. But for me the worst part was that the changes typically involved some specific teams, for which my colleagues constantly wanted ‘better referees’, even if it meant taking them away from difficult matches where the PRC felt that they were better needed. But on this specific point, the President has in fact been unfairly mentioned. His only involvement was a strong dispute with Kozhukov, not surprisingly over the refereeing in the match Russia-Egypt…

JR: Another scandal that is frequently mentioned is the pre-Olympic tournament in Athens where it's reported that half the Egyptian team sat out a match when they found out there would be drug testing. Can you confirm that this happened?

CA: I was present and it did indeed essentially happen like that. The Egyptian team got surprised and angry when they were told before the game that there would be testing. They tried to argue that this should not be allowed etc. And then it also took some time for them to sort out which players would be able to play. I think about half, 8 of 16, participated when the match was finally started.

JR: This calls to mind some of the doping issues that have been reported. As the PRC Chair, doping issues aren’t directly in your lane, but as an IHF Council member you probably have some insight into these allegations. Notably two members of the IHF Doping panel resigned in protest earlier this year. What is your sense for these issues?

CA: As you noted, this is not in my area, so I cannot offer many details. But it seemed clear that secrecy and independence that must be given to the Doping Unit did not seem respected. They must be allowed to keep their plans out of the scrutiny of the President and the Executive Committee, and their budget allocations must be handled in a way that does not jeopardize confidentiality.

JR: And, of course, accounting for expenses have also been an issue. It’s been reported that Dr. Moustafa has spent quite a bit on travel without having to produce receipts. My own experience has always been that I was required to keep travel receipts for a couple of years just in case I was audited. It seems reasonable to expect that someone that rings up $500,000 in travel costs would be required to do the same. Am I missing something here?

CA: It came up in late 2007 that the President apparently had arranged his travel outside IHF and then been reimbursed without submitting receipts, something very different from what the rest of us have to accept, namely that we do not get one cent reimbursed without receipts. As it was found that for some strange reasons the Treasurer and the Managing Director had been aware but without taking any action, the Council felt that retroactive measures would not be reasonable but that the President would have to undertake to change his practices immediately. The President apologized and accepted that decision. All this would be clear to anyone listening to the tape recording of the Council meeting. However, much to my amazement, the minutes of the meeting later on claimed falsely that just the opposite had been decided, namely that we had decided to let the improper habits continue. I thought it was an innocent mistake and tried to have the minutes corrected, but nothing happened. Later I tried to enlist Council colleagues to join me in demanding a correction, but to no avail. It is truly amazing that something like this can be allowed to happen.

JR: Any closing thoughts or other points that you would like to make?

CA: As I mentioned previously, nothing will really improve at the top unless the current President is removed. As regards the PRC, I’m strongly supporting my highly regarded colleague, Manfred Prause for the PRC Presidency. One of the other candidates, Dawud Tawakoli, for this position is clearly tainted by the Asian Olympic qualification matter and other refereeing controversies in Asia. He was responsible for the officiating assignments at the Asian Women’s tournament that resulted in the overwhelming favorites, Korea, losing out to Kazakhstan. He was also involved in bringing the ineligible Jordanian referees to the men’s event. Aside from this, he is widely considered to be too inexperienced and to lack the competence needed. The IHF referees have no respect for him. I sincerely hope that the voters are smart enough to dismiss him! There are other candidates as well, but I think that continuity in the management of the refereeing is extremely important at this time.