— Published 22 February 2021

Sheikh Ahmad plays his future in front of Swiss justice

Will we ever see Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah again? The future of the Kuwaiti leader, long touted as one of the most influential men in the Olympic movement, if not the most influential, is set to be played out this week. His trial begins this Monday, February 22nd in Geneva. It should last five days.

Sheikh Ahmad is accused by the Geneva Criminal Court, along with four other people, of having fabricated fake videos in an attempt to prove that two Kuwaiti government officials were guilty of conspiracy and corruption.

The case is complex. Above all, it goes a long way back. In December 2013, political allies of Sheikh Ahmad in Kuwait claimed to possess video tapes showing former Prime Minister Nasser Al-Mohammed and former Speaker of Parliament Jassem Al-Kharafi secretly preparing for an attempt to overthrow the government.

Sheikh Ahmad has always denied the facts. He explained, in his defense, to be the victim of a conspiracy intended to remove him from any form of power or influence in his country of birth. But legal proceedings have been launched by his accusers. While awaiting trial, he has withdrawn himself from the Olympic movement.

Officially, Sheikh is “temporarily suspended” from the IOC, until his case is resolved. He was not present at the beginning of last year in Lausanne, for the last face-to-face session organised by the Olympic body, before the opening of the Youth Winter Games.

He also voluntarily stepped down as president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC). He opened the last general assembly to date, in November 2018 in Tokyo (photo above), before announcing his decision to step aside for the duration of the legal proceedings. Very theatrical, he then left the room despite the mobilisation of many national committees to urge him to keep his function.

Since then, Sheikh Ahmad has not made an appearance in the Olympic movement. But, oddly enough, he continued to chair the Association of Asian Olympic Committees (OCA). Last December, he used all his weight to convince the continental body to carry out a double vote for the award of the Asian Games. Qatar clinched the 2030 edition. Saudi Arabia, the only other country in the running, secured the organisation in Riyadh of the multisport event in 2034.

Pending the opening of the trial on Monday, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah put on a low profile. He refused requests from the media. But his lawyers at Geneva-based RVMH said in a statement that he was “absolutely determined to secure a full acquittal and that he was confident about the positive outcome of the case“.

In Geneva, it was not clear whether the verdict would be delivered on the last day of the trial, at the end of the week. But, in any case, the three Swiss judges of the tribunal should not rule after March 10th, the date of the opening of the next IOC session, organised virtually.

In case of acquittal, the Kuwaiti leader could therefore take part in the session, remotely and by videoconference. He could participate in the announced re-election of Thomas Bach, the only candidate for his own succession to the IOC presidency. Eight years earlier, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah had made a major contribution to the former German fencer’s victory in the presidential race. Thomas Bach was then opposed to four rivals: Richard Carrion, Ng Ser Miang, Denis Oswald, and Sergei Bubka.

Otherwise, if found guilty, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.