Since October 27th, 2015, the Kuwait Olympic Committee (KOC) has been banned by the International Olympic Committee. Today, July 5th, 2019, that ban has been lifted, and the KOC is now once again eligible to compete in Olympic sports at an international level under its own flag.
Kuwait was banned in 2015 when laws were passed that gave the Kuwaiti government the ability to interfere with and dissolve sports leagues and teams, which is strictly against the rules of the IOC’s stated Olympic Movement. As a result, Kuwaiti athletes participating in the 2016 Olympic Games competed under a neutral Olympic flag.
The IOC decided to lift the ban because the KOC has made overtures to signal a change of direction and attitude, particularly with the election of a new President and Board of Directors, bringing youth (relatively speaking) to the table, as the average age of the Board is 32-years-old. According to the KOC, bringing younger perspectives into the boardroom “reflects the KOC’s desire to usher in a new generation to lead the Olympic Movement in Kuwait and provide fresh and new perspectives on how best to serve sport in the country.”
Among the new Board members is Faye Sultan, the Chair of the Athletes Committee. Sultan is a 2-time Olympian (2012, 2016) and the first-ever Kuwaiti female Olympic swimmer.
The KOC’s new President is H.E. Sheikh Fahad Nasser Sabah Ahmad Al Sabah, just the 3rd to serve in the role, and the head of the Kuwait MotorCross Committee. Al Sabah studied in Switzerland before earning a degree in Business Administration and Marketing Management from the American University of Kuwait, and previously served in the Kuwait military as an Apache helicopter pilot.
In the summer of 2018, just weeks before the FINA Congress in Budapest, Hungary, during the 2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships, the Kuwait Swimming Association (KSA) issued a letter to FINA requesting FINA remove First Vice President Husain Al-Musallam be from the FINA Executive Board. FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu denied the KSA’s requests, and even called the KSA and its recognized leadership as of July 2017 “irrelevant for FINA.”
Of the reinstatement, the IOC said in press release:
“The first step of the roadmap (revision and adoption of new statutes for the sports clubs, followed by elections) was successfully completed within the prescribed deadline (end of January 2019).
The second step (revision and adoption of new statutes for the National Sports Federations, followed by elections) was implemented in close coordination with the International Federations (IFs) concerned, and was successfully completed in early June 2019.
The third and last step (revision and adoption of the KOC statutes, followed by KOC elections) was successfully completed on 30 June 2019, with the holding of the KOC Elective General Assembly.”
“On 16 August 2018, the IOC EB decided to provisionally lift the suspension of the KOC, acknowledging the progress made, which included the revision of the sports law and an agreement to establish a process for elections of all sports organisations in Kuwait.
Following this decision, which enabled the athletes to compete in the Asian Games in Jakarta/Palembang and the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 under their country’s flag, a roadmap was established under the supervision of a Supervisory Committee, appointed by the IOC President, Thomas Bach.”
A press release from the KOC stated:
“On behalf of the Kuwait Olympic Committee, I would like to thank the IOC for their support in helping us to make the necessary changes to re-join the Olympic Family and best serve the Olympic Movement in Kuwait. I as President, and my Board of Directors, have made it clear that we have a new vison for our future and we are committed to acting in the best interests of Kuwaiti sport and our athletes. With this reinstatement we look forward to building on our productive relationship with the IOC and making a valuable contribution to the Olympic Movement. Our efforts will be built on our three key pillars: Unity, Solidarity and Team Work, and we will work hard every day to live up to the trust that has been given. I would also like to thank all the International Federations for their support and guidance over the past years. We look very much forward to working with them and to hosting them and their international championships here in Kuwait in the future”.
In its pleas for FINA to cut loose Al-Musallam, the KSA claimed that allowing him to retain his seat on the FINA Bureau and to run for re-election as FINA First Vice President infringed upon the “sovereignty” of Kuwait and the KSA, and that it demonstrated preferential treatment of Al-Musallam by protecting him.
Al-Musallam also serves as Director General of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), and in February of 2018 was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Honoris Causa in Sports Science by Kookmin University, in Seoul, South Korea.
Kuwait has never won a medal in swimming at the Summer Olympics, though two Kuwaiti swimmers competed at the 2016 Olympic Games under universality invites. Abbas Qali finished 36th in the men’s 100 fly with a time of 54.64, while Faye Sultan finished 54th in the women’s 50 free in 26.86.