LA 2024 bid won’t shun Olympic powerbroker accused of bribes

LONDON (AP) — When there’s an Olympic bid to be won, Casey Wasserman can’t risk putting off any voters as Los Angeles challenges Paris for the 2024 Games.

That means continuing to engage with a high-profile Olympic powerbroker accused of bribery in soccer politics and not publicly condemning Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait. The Asian Olympic leader hasn’t been convicted of any crime but he swiftly resigned from his soccer roles in response to being accused of wrongdoing in Brooklyn federal courthouse last week.

The International Olympic Committee is yet to announce a formal ethics investigation into the sheikh, who was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013. The IOC says only that the Sheikh Ahmad case file from the U.S. Department of Justice is being looked into.

“I can only judge on my personal experience with these members,” Wasserman, the LA bid leader, said when asked about the Kuwaiti sheikh on a visit to London on Thursday. “They have been great. They have been communicative. They have been open.”

Wasserman sees no reason to cut off ties with Sheikh Ahmad, who as leader of national Olympic bodies worldwide commands considerable influence in the movement that will vote on the 2024 host city in September.

“I have enjoyed my conversations and interaction with the sheikh at various events we have both been at,” Wasserman said, “and I have no doubt, as with every other IOC member at any event we would be at, that there is a chance to continue our interactions.”

Sheikh Ahmad contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the bribery allegations surfaced in public.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

“Those are all things that happened before our bid process started and have nothing to do with an Olympic bid,” Wasserman said at the London headquarters of his eponymous sports marketing and athlete management company.

LA is preparing for the visit of the IOC evaluation commission next week. While prevented from criticizing his Paris rival, Wasserman said that “LA provides a unique sense of calm and stability for seven years.”

He declined to expand on whether Paris doesn’t offer the same stability to the IOC, which is currently deciding whether to award the 2024 and 2028 Olympics at the meeting in Lima, Peru, in September. Paris and LA have said they only want 2024, rather than striking a deal.

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