The unlikely Handball connection behind Chicago’s first round exit

There’s been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking as to why Chicago was booted unceremoniously in the first round of voting in the race to host the 2016 Olympics. Nearly everyone had predicted and eventual Rio – Chicago showdown, but there were at least a few articles that mentioned that Chicago had to be wary of early round voting. And post mortem, several pundits and IOC members have hinted that Chicago’s demise was due to Asian solidarity to prevent a first round exit for Tokyo. And as told to the Chicago Tribune one of Chicago’s lobbyists hinted that it was specifically Arab support to their Asian colleagues:

“Luciano Barra of Italy, one of the lobbyists working for Chicago, said those who shifted to Tokyo may have included Arab members from countries belonging to the Asian Olympic group who wanted to show regional solidarity.”

Wait a second? You might have thought that the East Asians and the Arab states didn’t get along. Certainly, in Handball that’s true. After all, the Asian Handball Federation, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad al-Sabah, was the man on the other line talking to Dr Moustafa when it was decided that the Jordanian officials would be a better pair to officiate the infamous Korean-Kuwait Olympic qualification match. And after that there were calls from the Japanese and the Koreans to consider starting a new federation for East Asia. But while the discord continued from the Koreans the Japanese rancor became subdued. And even more startling the Japanese decided that Sheikh Al-Sabah’s role was worthy of an honorary doctorate degree for fair play. All seemingly bizarre, except for the fact that Al-Sabah is also the President of the Olympic Council of Asia and one of the very important 106 IOC delegates.

One can imagine the discussions that took place in the Japanese inner sports management circles. Handball is not a very important sport there and they most definitely wanted the Olympics. If not in 2016, then perhaps in 2020. Handball fair play protestations were pushed to the side in deference to their Olympic bid. And a year later it appears to have paid off with the Sheikh delivering the votes to Tokyo, with the consequence of Chicago being tossed out early.

The fact that Sheikh Al-Sabah can play such an important role in the Olympic movement while nary a word is said of his involvement in the Olympic Qualification scandal speaks volumes about the IOC and the need for an independent anti-corruption agency. If being selected host city means placating likes of Al-Sabah, perhaps Chicago will need to get Northwestern ready to start handing out the honorary doctorates if they want to get selected for 2020.

Chicago Tribune: Chicago 2016 team: Was it misled or did it miscount?:,0,882158.column
IHF Website: AHF President Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad al-Sabah receives doctorate from Nippon Sports Science University of Tokyo:
THN Commentary: AHF President honored for promoting fair play?: