Posts Tagged ‘sports and human rights’

Tour de France also used for sportswashing by Bahrain

July 8, 2019

Vincenzo Nibali riding for Bahrain-Merida in 2018.
Vincenzo Nibali riding for Bahrain-Merida in 2018. Ten campaign groups say the team are helping to draw attention from the country’s ‘appalling human rights record’. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

in the Guardian of 3 July 2019 reports on the efforts by a group of NGOs to have the UCI, cycling’s governing body, look again at the license of the Bahrain-Merida cycling team.

In the letter, under the umbrella of the Sport and Rights Alliance and led by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), the signatories claim that the team, led by the 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, is a vehicle for the Bahrain government to “sportswash” its appalling human rights abuses. “The Bahraini government has a reputation for using high-profile sporting events to divert international attention from the country’s appalling human rights record,” the letter states, “and we are concerned that Bahrain-Merida’s participation in UCI competitions is consistent with these aims.” The letter alleges that the Bahrain-Merida team may be in violation of the UCI’s code of ethics, which requires participants to “show commitment to an ethical attitude”.

However, the signatories draw attention in their letter to the fact that the Bahrain-Merida team was launched in 2017 by a son of the ruling king of Bahrain, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who is still described as the team’s leader on its website. ..Sheikh Nasser is a senior figure in the country’s sports institutions, chairing the Olympic committee until March this year. In 2011 he called publicly, on television, for the punishment of sportspeople who had taken part in demonstrations, saying: “To everyone that demands the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on their heads … whether he is an athlete, an activist or a politician … Today is the judgment day.”  Also, several of the sponsors – which include the Bahrain sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat and the oil company Bapco which itself says that it is wholly owned by the government – are described as “semi-government companies”.

For more on “Sportswashing” see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/

A UCI spokesperson told the Guardian that it had been aware of the “allegations of human rights violations by the Bahrain regime … prior to the initial registration of Bahrain-Merida as a UCI WorldTeam late 2016.” The spokesperson did not explain what approach the UCI took to the human rights concerns, or why they were not a barrier to the team’s registration. He added: “For the upcoming season, the independent licence commission will review the applicable criteria, including ethical, based on all available information pertaining to the team. The assessment … concentrates on the team and its members.”

Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at Bird, described that as a “very disappointing” response. “We raised similar concerns in 2016 and despite the severity of our concerns the UCI awarded Bahrain-Merida team the WorldTeam licence,” he said. “We are asking the UCI now to be transparent about their due diligence and to disclose their assessment, as a rational assessment must account for a history of severe rights abuses.”

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jul/03/bahrain-merida-cycling-team-being-used-to-sportswash-campaigners-say

Sports and Politics: Minsk 2019 apes Baku 2015 and with similar results

June 17, 2019

Belarus news, Alexander Lukashenko, European Games 2019, European Games Minsk, European Games Baku, Belarus human rights, Belarus press freedom, sports and human rights, European Olympic Committee, corruption in sport

Minsk, Belarus, 05/09/2019 © Tricky_Shark / Shutterstock

The second edition of the European Games is set to kick off on June 21 2019 in Minsk, Belarus. Events covering 15 different sports, from archery to sambo, will be contested over nine days. The 10 disciplines recognized as Olympic sports are especially important because they serve as qualifications for Tokyo 2020. Belarus finds itself trying to oversee a successful international sporting event while at the same time dismissing condemnation of its domestic political situation.

International organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch routinely criticize the human rights conditions in Belarus. Actions such as peaceful protests and membership in opposition organizations are basically criminalized under Belarusian law. Access to websites critical of the government is routinely denied, and press freedom curtailed. To add to this, Belarus remains the last country in Europe to employ the death penalty. These issues once again have risen to the fore when Belarus was selected to host the European Games that are thought to represent a different political culture.

These views are echoed by Human Rights Watch, which strongly pushed the European Olympic Committees (EOC) for assurances that journalists can carry out their work unhindered during the games. For its part, the EOC states that it will appoint special observers to ensure press freedom, but critics contend this is not enough. Key questions remain about the conditions for journalists when the games are over, and whether the EOC will ensure action if serious issues arise. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) went so far as to contemplate a boycott of the 2019 European Games. It was a half-hearted idea, as the DOSB viewed the maneuver as a last resort rather than an actionable response to the situation in Belarus. In the end, the requirement for athletes to achieve qualifications for the Tokyo Olympics quashed any sort of political activism.

Further, the Sports and Rights Alliance — a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organizations and trade unions — petitioned for positive advancements for Belorussian human rights prior to the commencement of this year’s games. It alleges that the EOC overlooks duties established in the Olympic Charter to protect human rights and dignity. At the recent Olympism in Action Forum, which focused on the relation of human rights and sport, David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, stated that “You’re judged by the company you keep and what you stand for.”..

Azerbaijan hosted the first European Games in Baku in 2015. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/12/baku-games-starting-today-with-avalanche-of-human-rights-criticism/] It is apparent that the past experience of 2015 had little effect on the EOC, and that the organization will not shift its mandate to accommodate the demands put forward by human rights defenders. Baku 2015 provides a template and numerous lessons for Minsk 2019. In the case that Minsk can put on a well-managed spectacle with memorable moments of sporting excellence, human rights concerns will not overshadow the Belarusian edition of the European Games.

.,… Lukashenko explained that “Visitors should get positive impressions of their stay in Belarus, in Minsk, and should take these impressions back home.” The president often refers to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and how the event improved opinions about Russia prior to the ensuing scandals linked to the Kremlin. Lukashenko knows there is a tough task ahead of him in regard to the human rights lobby and criticism of his strongman style of governance. However, the EOC’s president, Janez Kocijančič, firmly stated that any human rights concerns would not overshadow the competition, and that it is not in the dominion of the sports committee to influence domestic politics of host nations. This is a reaffirmation that sport is to be kept separate from politics and goes neatly along with Lukashenko’s retorts to criticism…

It is naive to believe that sport and politics are separate, as much as EOC and Belarusian officials insist on that principle. While the actual sporting activities are guided by apolitical rules, both the atmosphere and the message of large-scale events are inherently political. Hosting duties bring international scrutiny of human rights offences, while the country anticipates a public relations makeover. Both require diplomatic nuance and managed interactions with the regional community. Thus, levels of political involvement are apparent….

International sporting events held in countries with tainted human rights records often become lighting rods in the global community. It is of great importance to highlight these issues and to focus attention on states that regularly infringe upon basic freedoms. However, little perceptible success has been achieved by international NGOs advising boycotts or protective mechanisms by the umbrella organizations responsible for the events — in this case the EOC.

It is a difficult task to shift the development and implementation of a large-scale multidisciplinary event with a lot invested in its success on all sides. Campaigns need to expand their reach beyond those involved in the human rights movement who are already aware of calls to action. Social engagement must overcome the collective excitement over sport.

……

It seems that sport governing bodies struggle with achieving a balance between spectacle and sport. This issue will continue to complicate the relationship between athletics and politics, as liberal democracies balk at the cost of hosting such events, while states with debatable democratic records seek legitimacy from the international community. Sports diplomacy delivers this through soft power.

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

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Belarus Understands the Diplomatic Power of Sport

Save the date: 4th Sporting Chance Forum on 21 – 22 November 2019

June 4, 2019

The fourth annual Sporting Chance Forum will take place on Thursday and Friday the 21st and 22nd of November 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. [for last year’s event:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/14/third-annual-sporting-chance-forum-in-paris-is-over/]. The Forum provides an annual opportunity to take stock of progress toward meaningful and continuous human rights improvements across the world of sport, review the current state of play, and identify priorities in the short-, medium-, and long-term. Invitations, speaker announcements, and the full 2019 Sporting Chance Forum agenda will be released shortly.

https://www.sporthumanrights.org/en/events/events-the-2019-sporting-chance-forum

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

Asian football and human rights: still a long-term goal

April 7, 2019

That there is still a lot that needs to be done in the world of sports and human rights is illustrated in the piece by Minky Worden (director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch) in the Sydney Herald of 7 April 2019 (“Football leaders stand by as human rights abuses pile up”). Article 3 of the FIFA and AFC Statutes requires the AFC and its leaders “promote and protect
human rights”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

A too-rare sight ... Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.
A too-rare sight … Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.CREDIT:AP

Yet Sheikh Salman remained silent when Bahrain attempted to extradite Hakeem Al-Araibi, former national football player who had been accepted as a refugee in Australia, earlier this
year – despite strong statements by FIFA itself calling for his release. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/11/bahrain-feels-forced-to-drop-extradition-request-against-footballer-hakeem-al-araibi-who-is-on-the-plane-back-home/]

..He is not the only high-level football official who may not be acting in accordance with the policy. In 2018, 20 members of Afghanistan’s women’s national team made detailed allegations to the Guardian and to FIFA of sexual and physical abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the president of the Afghan Football Federation, Keramuddin Karim, and other officials. FIFA suspended Karim for two 90-day periods and during this time he has reportedly threatened witnesses in the case. He stands accused of sexual assault, physical attacks and intimidation…. The federation general secretary, Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada of Afghanistan, was suspended, yet was also just elected to the AFC’s powerful governing body, the executive committee.

Finally, Iran’s Football Federation president, Mehdi Taj, was elevated to AFC vice-president……….On Friday, before the AFC election, Iranian women filed an unprecedented FIFA ethics complaint against Mehdi Taj, for his role in presiding over their exclusion from stadiums for years. FIFA has said clearly in its second Human Rights Advisory Board report that the stadium ban for women violates FIFA’s statutes, which say such discrimination is “punishable by suspension or expulsion”.

The AFC football leaders from Bahrain, Afghanistan and Iran are bound by the FIFA code of ethics, the FIFA statutes and the FIFA human rights policy. FIFA has made admirable progress in implementing its new policy , and could even raise the bar for other sports federations. But FIFA’s reform efforts risk derailment if the sport’s leaders in Asia refuse to uphold the new global standards. FIFA’s Gianni Infantino, up for re-election unopposed himself this year, needs to find his voice to call out football federation leaders who are undermining reforms. It is time to hold accountable those who are threatening the “beautiful game” with ugly human rights abuses.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/football-leaders-stand-by-as-human-rights-abuses-pile-up-20190407-p51bmp.html

Human Rights Defenders pay high price for Bahrain Grand Prix

March 28, 2019

The Bahraini authorities appear to be using the glamour of motor sport to obscure the country’s human rights record

Bahrain: Grand Prix should not ‘sportswash’ country’s human rights record” says Amnesty International.

[see my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/]

Ahead of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix this weekend, Amnesty International has highlighted the grim human rights record of the country. Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said: “Beneath the glamour of the F1, there is a far more sinister side to Bahrain, revealing the country as a deeply repressive state where anyone critical of the government can be jailed merely for posting a tweet. “Prominent human rights defenders are under relentless attack in the country. 

Nabeel Rajab was shamefully convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for tweeting about the conflict in Yemen and torture allegations in Jaw Prison. “Instead of just ‘sportswashing’ its image and glossing over its dismal human rights record through high-speed sport, the Bahraini government should immediately repeal laws that criminalise freedom of expression and fast track the release of all prisoners of conscience.

Since mid-2016, the Bahraini authorities have embarked on a systematic campaign to eliminate organised political opposition in the country. The main targets of this far-reaching repression have been human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, Shi’a clerics and phttps://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/bahrain-verdict-against-sheikh-salman-another-nail-coffin-free-speecheaceful protesters…Earlier this month, Ebrahim Sharif was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for three years, for a tweet criticising Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …. Bahrain has used draconian legislation such as Law No. 58 of 2006 on the Protection of Society from Terrorist Acts, the Law on Political Associations, and repressive provisions of the Penal Code including Articles 134, 160, 165, 168, 214, 215, 216 and 310, to target protesters and other critics of the government. Since 2011, more than 800 people have been stripped of their nationalities. Of those, 115 lost their citizenship following a ludicrous mass trial that relied on confessions extracted under torture.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/02/happy-new-year-but-not-for-ahmed-mansoor-and-nabeel-rajab-in-the-gulf-monarchies/

For more information on the human rights situation, see the following blog – Bahrain: What lies behind the scenes of the Formula One Grand Prix.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/bahrain-grand-prix-should-not-sportswash-countrys-human-rights-record

 

IF Qatar has to share World Cup 2022, FIFA’s ethical standards must apply

March 12, 2019

A coalition of human rights groups (such as Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Congress, Transparency International and the World Players Association) has sent an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to confirm that any country chosen to share World Cup 2022 games with Qatar will meet world football’s new ethical standards. The possible expansion of the next World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is top of the agenda at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Miami on Friday, with Infantino keen on an idea that would mean Qatar having to share the World Cup with other nations in the Middle East.

That idea would need Qatar’s approval, which is far from certain as it has been locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June 2017, but the more neutral Kuwait and Oman have been suggested as possible co-hosts.

Experts on workers’ rights in the region have been highly critical of the controversial decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010 and are now equally concerned about the prospect of one or more countries in the region having to build stadiums and upgrade infrastructure in a hurry. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/fifa-human-rights-qatar-world-cup-2022-gianni-infantino-kuwait-oman-bahrain-egypt-saudi-arabia-a8818816.html

Sports and human rights: focus on ‘sports washing’ – big names play for big money

February 1, 2019

Sports and human rights (or as some like to say ‘sports and politics‘) remains a hotly disputed topic. While the organized sport world (FIFA, IOC) is slowly coming around to take these matters more seriously [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/  and  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/olympic-committee-tries-its-hands-on-human-rights-cautiously/], it seems that less progress is made with sports events organized by repressive regimes simply to boost their image. Recently called ‘sports washing‘ [The term was coined in relation to a planned tennis exhibition match in Jeddah last December between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, – https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/19/novak-djokovic-and-rafael-nadal-have-a-chance-to-score-a-point-for-human-rights-defenders/. It never went ahead due to an injury of Nadal.]. Azerbaijan in 2015 tried to make good use of sporting events (see e.g.    https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/12/baku-games-starting-today-with-avalanche-of-human-rights-criticism/; and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/21/azerbaijan-a-formula-for-combining-sports-and-repression/).

Now the regime of Saudi Arabia hopes that it can buy its way to a better image with hosting sport events and Amnesty International has warned sports stars not to become a propaganda tool. Saudi Arabia said it has hired the former England captain, David Beckham, to lead an exhibition team against his former Real Madrid teammate Zinedine Zidane.  The game, to be held later this year, is part of a £60-billion re-launch of the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia, called the National Transformation Programme. According to an article in the Sun, it would earn Beckham an estimated £1million. [Beckham also has a lifetime endorsement deal worth £120million with Adidas which I think doesn’t sit well with Adidas’ claimed stance in favor of human rights – see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/13/first-time-major-companies-say-that-human-rights-defenders-are-essential-for-profitable-business/].

Announcing the match in front of big screen images of the football legends, Saudi sports minister Turki Al-Sheikh said: “This is an exhibition match including two big worldwide stars – Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham playing against each other…If God wills, you will see it this year in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The UN children’s aid group UNICEF, for whom Beckham is a goodwill ambassador, has criticised the Saudi-led coalition saying its bombing attacks there have had catastrophic consequences for the local population. Saudi Arabia has detained more than a dozen women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul who once appeared in a Vanity Fair.  Loujain’s sister, Alia, has criticised US singer Mariah Carey for playing a concert on Thursday at the King Abdullah Economic City. She said: “My own baby sister said she is being whipped, beaten, electrocuted and harassed on a frequent basis.” She stated: “Remember, thanks to my sister @LoujainHathloul, you r able to perform in Saudi Arabia. I wish she can attend your concert. But she’s locked behind bars because she tried to improve women’s condition. Don’t forget to thank her on stage,” she wrote to Carey on Twitter. [but Mariah Carey is an old hand when it comes to selling her soul: see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/19/mariah-carey-needs-better-informed-staff-and-donate-her-1-million-fee-to-human-rights-defenders-in-angola/].

My post yesterday was about golfershttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/31/amnesty-international-calls-on-golfers-not-to-play-the-saudi-propaganda-game/] who were being paid $ 1million when the European Tour staged a tournament in Saudi Arabia. While Paul Casey decided not to take part on human rights grounds, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter did play.

How difficult if not impossible it is to try and separate sports and politics can be illustrated by the recent case of soccer player, Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahrain-born soccer player for a team in Australia has been held in detention in Thailand [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/02/craig-foster-australian-footballer-and-human-rights-defender/].  Hannah Beech in the NYT on 31 January 2019 puts the question “Can Big Global Sports Come Around to Human Rights Advocacy?

Hakeem al-Araibi, center, a former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who has refugee status in Australia, at court in Bangkok in December.CreditCreditAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The global sports market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Now, this powerful industry is coming together to promote an unlikely cause: human rights. Since late November, a Bahrain-born soccer player for a minor team in Australia has been held in detention in Thailand. The player, Hakeem al-Araibi, 24, is not a famous athlete. He has no lucrative sponsors. But he has spoken out against one of the most powerful men in international soccer, who is also a member of the ruling family of Bahrain. His testimony of torture at the hands of Bahrain’s repressive government earned him refugee status in Australia, which determined that he faced credible threats of persecution should he return to the Gulf state. Still, over the past week, Mr. Araibi has collected an impressive list of supporters in the world of international sports.

  • Fatma Samoura, the secretary general of FIFA, has called for Thailand to return him to Australia “as a matter of urgency.”
  • Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee, raised the issue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Praful Patel, of the Asian Football Confederation, issued a statement asking the Prime Minister of Thailand to ensure Mr. Araibi’s return to his adopted home.

[By the way, the head of the Asian Football Confederation is Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the Bahraini official whom Mr. Araibi accused of not stopping the persecution of athletes in his charge. Sheikh Salman also serves as a FIFA vice president.!]

Mary Harvey, the chief executive of the Center for Sports and Human Rights, said:  “Hakeem is a historic test case, because it’s the first time that we’ve seen these big, powerful sports bodies all come together publicly to address the fate of a single person”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/12/mary-harvey-her-goal-is-now-human-rights/]. The court ordered al-Araibi, who is in the Bangkok Remand Prison, to appear before it at 8.30am on Monday to answer whether or not he is willing to be extradited,  lawyer Bergman said.

—–