Posts Tagged ‘football’

Ronaldo vs Messi in sports washing: 1 – 0

May 16, 2022
Lionel Messi. Editorial credit: Asatur Yesayants / Shutterstock.com

In January 2021 I happily reported that Ronaldo rejected an offer of reportedly €6m per year to feature in commercial campaigns and visit the country. I added that Lionel Messi also received an offer from Saudi Arabia, but like his great rival didn’t accept.

According to 5Pillars (RMS) this turned out to be premature. The Argentina and Paris Saint Germain football superstar Lionel Messi was unveiled as the new tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia. Messi visited Jeddah’s historic area on Tuesday to showcase the country’s ambitions to boost its tourism industry. Messi landed in the Kingdom on 9 May, Monday night and was welcomed by Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

I am happy to welcome Lionel,” said Al Khateeb. “We are delighted to have him explore the treasure of the Red Sea, the Jeddah station and our ancient history. This is not his first visit to the Kingdom and it will not be his last.” He was then hosted and accompanied by Princess Haifa Al-Saud, assistant minister of tourism….

The player himself posted an image of himself in Saudi Arabia on Instagram. “Discovering the Red Sea in Saudi. #VisitSaudi” wrote Messi.

But Amnesty International said: “Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority may well have plans to attempt to rebrand the Kingdom’s reputation, but we should not forget the cruelty that continues in the country.

Saudi Arabia is currently jailing and torturing dissidents and human rights defenders, is heavily involved in the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and homes in Yemen, and the spectre of Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder hangs over the entire Saudi government.

Countries like Saudi Arabia are well aware of the ‘sport swashing’ value of hosting major international entertainment and sporting events.” For some of my earlier posts on sports washing, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

FIFA World Cup: the human rights plans of host cities

April 17, 2022

On 5 April 2022, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) and a leading international law firm (Clifford Chance) have released a report that provides a perspective on the human rights plans of the cities vying to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup matches. The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans provides an overview of the diverse and wide-ranging plans published by the cities to address the human rights impact of hosting the international event for each of 22 candidate cities in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The collaborative work by CSHR [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/27/new-global-center-for-sport-and-human-rights-created-to-address-abuses/] and Clifford Chance is an independent report recognising highlights from each city’s human rights strategy, providing a view across numerous human rights factors addressed by the cities, including anti-discrimination, human rights-related environmental impact, and workers’ and housing rights. The report recognises proposed initiatives to advance human rights promotion and protection at a city-by-city level, highlighting commitments made in the respective candidate city bids. It also identifies opportunities for ongoing dialogue and peer-learning within and among the cities and stakeholders.

CSHR experts worked with a team of 13 Clifford Chance lawyers from New York, Washington, DC and London to review and analyse submissions from all 22 cities, from three countries, over nearly a three-month period. The report’s release comes in the run up to FIFA, the world’s governing body of football, selecting the host cities and will complement FIFA’s assessment of the cities’ human rights plans.

The Promise of a Positive Legacy includes a compelling colour-coded heatmap that offers an at-a-glance view of where cities have placed the greatest emphasis on human rights issues most salient to their own contexts.

United26 Istock 464570479 Final Square

The report: The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans

Download Here

https://www.sporthumanrights.org/news/cshr-and-clifford-chance-release-report-on-2026-fifa-world-cup-host-city-candidates-human-rights-plans/

FC Barcelona will support programmes for displaced children

March 28, 2022

Having pointed to football clubs’ bad behaviour on several occasions [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/25/premier-league-football-and-human-rights-continuing-saga/], it is fair to point out good examples: UNHCR, along with its National Association in Spain, Spain for UNHCR, announced 24 March 2022 a new partnership with FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

The partnership will span the next four years. From next season, the UNHCR logo will appear on the back of the iconic FC Barcelona jerseys worn by the men’s and women’s first team and the Barça Genuine Foundation team, below each player’s number, with the aim of raising awareness of the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world.

In addition, the Foundation will make a cash contribution of €400,000 per football season towards four UNHCR projects on four continents (€100,000 per project), plus a separate donation (valued by the club at €100,000 per season) of FC Barcelona sports equipment, as well as the technical expertise of the FC Barcelona Foundation’s sports specialists.

The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has stressed the club’s desire to respond to the growing number and complexity of refugee crises. UNHCR has been increasing its focus on the power of sport to help forcibly displaced people – and local communities that host them – to rebuild their lives.

FC Barcelona, through its Foundation, has collaborated with UNHCR since 2009 in various initiatives and programmes for people forced to flee. The Foundation has developed several of its own programmes in refugee settlements in Greece and Lebanon, and for unaccompanied children in Italy and Spain. In 2019, the FC Barcelona Foundation joined the Sport for Refugees Coalition, which was set up at UNHCR’s Global Refugee Forum, where it pledged to increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/3/623c47ef4/fc-barcelona-unhcr-unite-forcibly-displaced-children-worldwide.html

Premier League Football and human rights: continuing saga

March 25, 2022
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020.
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Images

The English Premier League should immediately adopt and implement human rights policies that would prohibit governments implicated in grave human rights abuses from securing stakes in Premier League clubs to whitewash their reputations, Human Rights Watch said 0n 23 March 2022. The ban should be extended to state entities that they control, abusive state leaders, and individuals funding or otherwise assisting in serious abuses. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/human-rights-compliance-test-for-football-clubs/

On March 14, 2022, media reported that a consortium led by a Saudi media group closely connected to the Saudi government had expressed interest in purchasing Chelsea Football Club. This reinforces the urgent need for the Premier League to adopt policies to protect clubs and their supporters, before any sale takes place, from being implicated in efforts to whitewash rights abuses. The Premier League’s approval of the sale of Newcastle United to a business consortium led by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government-controlled entity implicated in serious human rights abuses, was conducted in an opaque manner and without any human rights policy in place. The Premier League should reconsider the approval of the Newcastle United sale. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/]

Allowing Newcastle United to be sold to a business consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, an institution chaired by a state leader linked to human rights abuses, has exposed the farcical inadequacies of the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As another consortium with Saudi government links eyes acquiring Chelsea, the Premier League should move fast to protect the league and its clubs from being a fast-track option for dictators and kleptocrats to whitewash their reputations.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, on March 15, to express concerns over the Newcastle United decision and to raise further concerns about the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in facilitating human rights abuses.

The October 7, 2021 Premier League statement announcing the sale said that the league had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The league did not disclose what these assurances were, nor explain how they would be legally binding. Instead, the Premier League appears to have acquiesced to the notion that the Public Investment Fund is separate from the Saudi state, even though its chairman is the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its board members are nearly all currently serving ministers and other high-level officials, and it is a sovereign wealth fund that reports to the government’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs…

Human Rights Watch has significant concerns around the role of the investment fund itself in facilitating human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who, according to a LinkedIn page attributed to al-Rumayyan and various media reports, was managing director of the fund between 2015 and 2019, on December 21, 2021, and again on March 15 requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded. Al-Rumayyan is also Newcastle United’s new nonexecutive chairman.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official. The documents showed that in 2017, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process.

..

The Premier League has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe. This gap has allowed Saudi Arabia to employ its “sportswashing” strategy in the Premier League.

On March 3, the Premier League said it was considering adding a human rights component to its owners’ and directors’ test as it reviews its governance and regulations, and Masters told the Financial Times that this had come under “a lot of scrutiny” and league officials were looking to see if “we need to be more transparent and whether those decisions should be approved by an independent body.” The Premier League should also investigate the allegations of involvement of the fund’s and al-Rumayyan’s involvement in abuses, including Khashoggi’s murder, and publish its findings.
 
Potential purchase of Chelsea FC by Saudi-led consortium
The Saudi-led consortium that has reportedly made a £2.7bn bid to purchase Chelsea is being spearheaded by the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), one of the largest publishing companies in Middle East, headed by a prominent Saudi media executive, Mohammed al Khereiji. The company owns more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News, and Arab News – media outlets with an apparently pro-Saudi government bias – and has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia where there are almost no independent media. Al- Khereiji is the only name mentioned in any reports regarding the Chelsea bid, and it is unclear who else is involved in the consortium.

While the media company has reportedly gone out of its way to deny any direct links to the Saudi government, it has repeatedly been reported that the group has longstanding close ties to former and current Saudi rulers. Between 2002 and 2015, three of King Salman’s sons chaired it. The position was then filled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan, who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, until 2018, when he was appointed culture minister. Prince Badr is also chairman of the Misk Art Institute, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s non-profit Misk Foundation.

In 2020, Al-Khereiji who holds several high-level positions, was appointed board chairman of MBC Media Solutions, a commercial advertising and sales unit created in partnership between MBC Group, a media conglomerate owned by the Saudi government, and Engineer Holding Group (EGH), the media company’s parent company which al-Khereiji also heads.

Given how closely connected the media company is to Saudi state-controlled entities, how little independence the Saudi-based media outlets under its control have, and how much influence it wields – it claims it has a combined monthly reach of 165 million people – it contributes heavily to promoting the image of the Saudi government.  

The Saudi government has gone all-out in the past years to bury its human rights abuses under public spectacles and sporting events,” Ahmed said. “Until there is real accountability for these abuses by the Saudi leadership, those silently benefiting from the kingdom’s largess risk being an accomplice in whitewashing their crimes.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/23/english-premier-league-urgently-adopt-human-rights-policy

Newcastle’s takeover bid from Saudi Arabia welcomed by many fans but it remains ‘sportswashing’

January 30, 2020

On Monday 27 January 2020, Football365.com carried the story about Amnesty International calling the take-over of footbal club Newcastle by Saudi Arabia a case of ‘sportswashing’. Two days later the BBC reported on the conflicting feelings within the supporters group.

A Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would be “sportswashing, plain and simple” according to human rights body Amnesty International.The Premier League club are in talks with two potential buyers, including a consortium which features the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has recently engaged on a large scale in buying a positive image with events such as Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing match against Andy Ruiz, Spain’s Super Cup and the Dakar ralley.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/ ]

Amnesty sees this as an attempt to use sport to clean up its image, describing the country’s human rights record as “abysmal”.“ It’s not for us to say who should own Newcastle, but players, back-room staff and fans alike ought to see this for what it is – sportswashing, plain and simple,” Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is considering a £340million bid by the consortium, which is led by Amanda Staveley a businesswoman and financier, who failed to buy the club two years ago.

(Premier League club Sheffield United are also owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. And Amnesty have also criticised Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners for “sportswashing” their country’s “deeply tarnished image” by pouring money into the Premier League champions. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/)

Also Khashoggi’s fiance came out against the sale: https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/4/29/khashoggi-fiancee-slams-saudi-takeover-of-newcastle-united

Amnesty International labels Newcastle takeover bid ‘sportswashing’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51299845

see also: https://www.metro.news/deep-pockets-matter-more-to-fans-than-human-rights/1893025/

Dakar Rally: sports washing par excellence

January 15, 2020
AlKhaleej Today on 14 January 2020 carries an interesting post by Anthony Harwood, a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, entitled: Dakar Rally opens dark new chapter in Saudi sportswashing“. Here some long excerpts listing some of the many sports events which Saudi Arabia has been buying, but with the main focus on the Dakar Rally. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/].

..But regrettable also that the organisers of the race, France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have chosen not to say or do anything which might upset the host country, Saudi Arabia, and spark headlines around the world.  There was once a time when campaigners would call on sportsmen and women to boycott Riyadh when asked to play there, much as happened when “rebel tours” of South Africa were announced during the apartheid era. But that changed when the desert kingdom began offering huge sums of money that footballers, wrestlers, tennis players, snooker players and golfers were finding hard to turn down. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International realised that calling for a boycott was never going to work when the lure of the Saudi riyal was so great and promoters could point to how companies like House of Fraser, Gucci, Chanel and Starbucks are already trading in Saudi Arabia, so what’s all the fuss?  Instead, campaign groups asked that anyone who went to Riyadh spoke out while they were there about the country’s appalling human rights abuses….

As Ines Osman, director of the MENA Rights Group, said: “These activists, and countless others, have paid the price of their freedom for the state’s ‘social change’ narrative. Competitors and sports fans must speak up, as silence allows Riyadh’s soft power tactics to wash away human rights abuses, shutting down the voices of Saudi human rights defenders.” 

The term ‘sportswashing’ has entered the lexicon as a way to describe how countries such as Saudi Arabia use sport to wash away the stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.  To do this they lure sports stars and celebrities to their country with huge sums of money; only on Friday the manager of Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde, admitted that the only reason the Spanish Super Cup was being hosted in Riyadh was because of the money on offer.  Likewise, the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, got $86m to agree to last month’s world heavyweight title fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia. 

..In November the Dakar director, David Castera, claimed there had been hesitation before choosing Saudi Arabia for the rally, but didn’t elaborate on what the “many guarantees” were which had held things up.  He also noted that Dakar was not the first sporting event to be held in Saudi, which of course is true, and is why the Saudis continue to spend a fortune attracting high-profile competitors: so it becomes normalised. 

The Saudi authorities have said they hope broadcasts of the race – showing the country’s beautiful expanses of desert, mountains and coastline – will provide a boost to its tourist industry. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, said accusations of sportswashing are wrong because his country was always criticised for “not opening up to the world”. What a crass thing to say. By opening up, we don’t mean gawping at the Saudi desert.  By opening up we mean having a transparent judicial system where a trial which allows the organisers of Khashoggi’s murder to escape punishment can be scrutinised.  By opening up we mean allowing a cross-party group of British members of parliament access to women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, as well as their guards, following claims they have been tortured and sexually assaulted while in jail.  By opening up we mean allowing an examination of how the Saudi-led coalition have carried out unlawful attacks in Yemen, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and child recruitment. 

It’s sad that not one of those drivers from 62 nations had so much as a pink armband between them when they set off from Jeddah on 5 January on what the Saudi media proudly call ‘Chapter 3’ in the race’s history.  If they don’t find their voices by the time they reach Riyadh on Friday – and I’m not holding my breath – the start of a five year contract to hold the race in Saudi Arabia will actually mark the most shameful stretch of the Dakar Rally’s history. 

For more of my posts on sports washing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

https://alkhaleejtoday.co/saudi-arabia/21704/Dakar-Rally-opens-dark-new-chapter-in-Saudi-sportswashing.html

To end the year: sports washing quotes in 2019 from the Guardian:

December 31, 2019

Having this year spent quite a bit of time on the issue of celebrites [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/star-power/] and sports washing [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/] I thought that these quotes from the Guardian of 29 December 2019 are fitting end of year message:

Gianni Infantino in June – addressing Fifa’s congress two years after he sacked the ethics team investigating him. “We turned it around! Fifa has gone from being toxic, almost criminal, to what it should be: synonymous with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, and with human rights.His other big message in 2019: rejecting talk that it was Fifa’s new reliance on Chinese sponsors that led it to drop all human rights checks and award China the 2021 Club World Cup. “There are problems in this world, everywhere, in many countries. It is not the mission of Fifa to solve the problems of this world.

Also not buying complaints from human rights and ethics groups about sportswashing in 2019 UEFA head Aleksander Ceferin:

a) Explaining why holding the Europa League final in Azerbaijan was the right thing to do: “Human rights is a problem in other places too. Does it mean the fans in Baku do not deserve live football?”, and

b) reacting to the World Anti‑Doping Agency’s call for Russia to be stripped of Euro 2020 by confronting Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg. His message to Putin – Uefa stands by Russia because: “I must say, the World Cup was organised perfectly… I do not speak just to be nice: I really mean it.

from: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/29/alternative-2019-sports-awards-quotes-gaffes-meltdowns

Arsenal and Chelsea are not the only ones strugggling in Azerbaijan on 29 May

May 23, 2019

Baku’s Olympic Stadium is hosting the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea Wednesday 29 May 2019 and is also the venue for four games in next year’s European Championship. I will certinaly watch the match but will keep in mind Amnesty International’s warning that we should not let Azerbaijan hide human rights abuses behind football.  Sports washing is a phenomenon that deserves more attention, see e.g.:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-and-rights-alliance/

The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups.
The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups. Photograph: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

We must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to sportswash its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare,” Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, said. “Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace.

LGBTI people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return. Fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan’s likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday’s match….All too often, governments are using high-profile sporting competitions to distract attention from repressive policies and human rights violations, to instead project an image of openness. This couldn’t be further from the truth with the current administration, and the Arsenal-Chelsea clash is just the latest reminder of this.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/may/22/amnesty-international-azerbaijan-human-rights-football

Andrew Anderson: “The Dangerous Game of Sportswashing”

May 22, 2019
On 26 April 2019 Andrew Anderson of Front Line Defenders did – rightly – not mince his words in a piece drawing attention to the growing phenomenon of sports washing. In February 2019 I drew already attention to this in a post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/.

Anderson’s “Gloss, Not Glory: The Dangerous Game of Sportswashing” says it more eloquently:

Brutal and corrupt dictatorships trying to use sport to improve their image is nothing new, as The Guardian noted in February when it compared club ownership and the Champions League to Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup. However, the absurd news that the Dakar Rally will take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020 – compounded by reports that an offer is under consideration to bring the Spanish Super Cup to the same country in a €30 million per year, 6-year deal- brings blood drenched sportswashing to new depths.


Protest graffitti against the Formula One race in Bahrain.

As the International Federation for Human Rights reported the Dakar Rally announcement comes not only in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi and amidst Saudi war crimes in Yemen, but as women human rights defenders are being tortured in detention for campaigning, amongst other things, for the right of women to drive. The same Saudi rulers who order the killings and torture are seeking to buy positive coverage through sport. “The same Saudi rulers who order the killings and torture are seeking to buy positive coverage through sport.”

As someone who was at Wembley in 1992 to see Barcelona lift their first European Cup, it is particularly galling to contemplate the Cruyff-inspired masters of the beautiful game being dragged into the sportswashing of Mohammad bin Salman. The Barcelona slogan is “More Than a Club” and is explicitly linked to both values and social change. It is difficult to reconcile these noble aspirations with a PR exercise for a misogynist regime, itself the antithesis of those values.

We are, of course, already far down the slippery slope. The rulers of the UAE have also long-used sport as part of their self-promotion. The owners of Manchester City and the sponsors of Real Madrid are similarly involved in war crimes in Yemen, and routinely detain and torture those who dare to speak out for human rights. Ahmed Mansoor, winner of the Martin Ennals Prize in 2015 for his peaceful work for human rights, is currently on hunger strike in protest against prison conditions and his sentencing to 10 years in prison after an unfair trial. Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned for his health and is calling for his release.

Sunday, 28th April, Formula One will hold the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. The Azeri dictator, Ilham Aliyev, who routinely detains human rights defenders and journalists, is also President of the country’s Olympic committee. He has embraced sportswashing enthusiastically. Azerbaijan hosted the European Games in 2015 under the auspices of the European Olympic Committees. The 2019 European Games are to be in Belarus. The Formula One calendar also includes Bahrain, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and China, all countries where Front Line Defenders is campaigning for the release of unjustly detained human rights defenders.


Protest against first European Games in Baku in 2015.

Many sports fans will shrug their shoulders and say that money is awash in international sport, and what can you do? The International Olympic Committee and football’s world governing body FIFA have been mired in corruption scandals and the use of international sporting events and national Olympic committees have long been seen by dictators, authoritarians and fascists as tools for advancing propaganda. But it is surely time to draw a line in the sand, and where better to do it than Saudi Arabia? The Dakar Rally should not take place there while women human rights defenders like Lujain Al-Hathloul are detained and tortured. And the Spanish Football authorities must reject the proposed Saudi deal in spite of the vast sums of money on the table.

Sportswashing is more than a game, it is a corrupt exercise of cover-up and repression. And sport must reject the tyrants.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/blog/post/gloss-not-glory-dangerous-game-sportswashing

Bahrain feels forced to drop extradition request against footballer Hakeem al-Araibi who is on the plane back home

February 11, 2019
That international’s pressure can have a good result – sometimes – is shown in today’s court order in Thailand to release Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi.  Bahrain dropped the extradition request, said the prosecutor working on the case.
Thailand to free Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi
Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and subsequently received refugee status in Australia [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]

Monday’s decision comes after the 25-year-old footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was jailed for weeks in Bangkok’s Klong Prem Remand Prison. Bahrain wanted him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station. Al-Araibi denied those charges. See also Craig Foster, Australian footballer and …human rights defender!

Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November at a Bangkok airport while on his honeymoon following an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morisson, meanwhile, praised the decision and said al-Araibi was on his way to the airport, where he should arrive in 12 hours from now.

“This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. “Let’s continue the fight to release all political prisoners who languish in Bahrain’s prisons.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/thailand-free-refugee-bahraini-footballer-hakeem-al-araibi-190211083252299.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/14/global-sports-groups-new-human-rights-ally-bahrain