Kuwait suspended by IOC over sports legislation; Rio 2016 now in doubt

Kuwait's 2016 Olympics participation was thrown into uncertainty on Tuesday as Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah confirmed the IOC would be suspending the country for political interference.

A view of the Kuwait Olympic Committee and Sports Federation in Kuwait City. Sheikh Ahmad says the country will be suspended from Olympics participation on Tuesday. Tariq Al Ali / Reuters
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For the second time in five years, Kuwait is being suspended by the IOC for political interference, leaving its athletes in limbo for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, the Kuwaiti who heads the global association of national Olympic committees and is a senior IOC member, told The Associated Press that the country will be sanctioned by the IOC on Tuesday.

The move comes after Kuwait failed to amend its disputed sports legislation by the October 27 deadline set by the International Olympic Committee. Fifa suspended Kuwait’s football association over the same issue two weeks ago.

“As a Kuwaiti I am very sad,”’ Sheikh Ahmad said in an interview Monday night. “All of us are upset. It’s a very sad story. It’s human mistakes.”

The IOC is concerned about government meddling in the running of Kuwait’s Olympic committee and national sports federations. The IOC says the new sports law threatens the autonomy of the sports bodies and would mean Kuwait would no longer comply with the Olympic Charter.

The suspension comes with Sheikh Ahmad in Washington to chair this week’s general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees. He does not sit on the Kuwaiti body and was not directly involved in negotiations between the IOC and Kuwait on the issue.

The sheikh said Kuwait is one of the 206 national Olympic committees due to attend the Anoc meeting on Thursday and Friday. He said the Kuwaiti delegates will be allowed to stay but won’t have any voting rights.

“I hope there will be an understanding very soon,” Sheikh Ahmad said, warning that otherwise a “whole generation of athletes” will suffer.

If the suspension is not lifted before next year’s Olympics in Rio, Kuwaiti athletes would be barred from representing their country at the games. The IOC would have to give them special dispensation to compete as individuals under the Olympic flag.

“I will give my full support to bring them,” the sheikh said.

Kuwait was suspended by the IOC in 2010, also in a dispute over government interference. The country was reinstated in 2012 ahead of the London Games after Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, pledged autonomy for the Olympic committee and promised new legislation for institutions governing sports.

Sheikh Ahmad said he couldn’t understand why Kuwait would now establish a law that goes back on the ruler’s pledge to the IOC.

“I think it’s related to politics, because the sports minister has lost an election to the president of shooting,” he said.

In recent years, the IOC also suspended the national Olympic bodies of India, Ghana and Panama for political interference, but all were eventually reinstated.

The IOC recently gave Siri Lanka until the end of the year to revise its sports legislation or face suspension.

Fifa suspended Kuwait after it failed to change its sports law by October 15. Kuwaiti teams and clubs are banned from international competition, and the association and its members are barred from receiving any Fifa development assistance.

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