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Harmon wins second appeal against OFC

Thursday 3 February 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Soccer, Sports

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Harmon wins second appeal  against OFC
Lee Harmon. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/21082207

The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Appeals Committee upheld the appeal by former Cook Islands Football president Lee Harmon, ruling he is eligible to be an executive committee member of the OFC.

The OFC Eligibility Committee last year ruled Harmon was not eligible to return on to the regional football body’s Executive Committee for life after FIFA suspended him for three months in March 2019.

The former vice-president of Oceania Football Confederation and a member of the powerful FIFA Council was found guilty of reselling tickets at 2018 World Cup in Russia, by the FIFA Ethics Committee.

Originally, Harmon appealed the decision by OFC to the Court for Arbitration of Sports (CAS) in September 2019 and his appeal was upheld by CAS and OFC refused to accept the CAS decision which was against the OFC Statutes. The matter was taken by Harmon to the New Zealand High Court for enforcement.

In a statement, he said OFC disputed this and lost again in the High Court.

Harmon said in an attempt to keep him out of the game, for whatever reason unknown to him, OFC introduced new eligibility regulations in February 2021, and made a new decision in July 2021 and ruled that he, again, was not eligible to be on the OFC Executive Committee.
Harmon appealed this decision to the OFC Appeals Committee who on January 24, 2022 upheld his appeal.

“The Appellant (Harmon) is eligible to be an Executive Committee Member of the OFC. He was so entitled as from 9 September 2019 as per the CAS award and as confirmed by the High Court of New Zealand,” ruled the OFC Appeals Committee.

The OFC Appeals Committee agreed with the submissions presented to them by Harmon’s lawyer Lavi Rokoika.

Rokoika argued that:

  • Although OFC imposed a life ban on Harmon in 2019, this was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision in March 2020, stating that such a decision by OFC was illegal and Harmon was eligible to return to OFC on 9 September 2019.
  • Although OFC were bound to respect CAS decisions under their Statutes, they refused so Harmon obtained a judgement in the High Court in New Zealand in May 2021 to enforce the CAS decision.
  • Although OFC passed new eligibility regulations in February 2021 the decision of the OFC Eligibility Committee to ban Harmon again was double jeopardy and such new regulations could not be applied retrospectively and was clearly unfair.

In August last year, OFC banned Harmon from all football activities for six years and fined $US75,000 (NZ$110,000). OFC’s Disciplinary and Ethics Committee found Harmon had breached five articles of the OFC Code of Ethics, including conflicts of interest, offering and accepting gifts and other benefits and bribery and corruption.

To Harmon, the whole idea of the eligibility issue was driven by OFC “just in case the suspension handed down to him in August 2021 did not go in their favour”.

Although Harmon was relieved with the decision, he said there appears to be a personal campaign from the OFC Leadership and in particular a senior OFC official to block him from returning to OFC, “and this was confirmed by several OFC Executive Committee members”.

“(The OFC official) wasted a lot of time, energy, resources and football money in the hundreds of thousands in legal fees in this campaign against me. (The official) should have spent this money on football development programmes and activities.  Today in OFC there is no OFC international competitions and yet the rest of the world are playing football.

“In addition, why is OFC taking their World Cup Qualifying to Qatar, where it will cost the national associations a huge amount of money to pay players all the way there and this qualifying competition could have been held in New Zealand, if the negotiations with the government, re: MIQ rooms, were carried out properly. This is a clearly a failure on behalf of the OFC Secretariat.

“The way OFC have dealt with these issues has the perception that I am a criminal. Those who know me will know I am nowhere near it.”

Harmon is now in the process of appealing to the OFC Appeals Committee and even to CAS if need be, on the sanctions OFC imposed on him in August of last year with a six-year ban and a $110,000 fine for breach of the Code of Ethics. Harmon said he is fairly confident that the suspension and fine will be overturned or reduced considerably.