Football must go in hard on Bahrain over the Hakeem al-Araibi affair

first_imgHakeem al-Araibi Refugees Share on Twitter Hakeem Al Araibi arrives at court in Bangkok. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters Football Reuse this content Read more Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks. Bahrain Call for Fifa’s Salman al-Khalifa to step down if Hakeem al-Araibi is not freed However, Schwab insists that all is not lost in a case which he describes as a litmus test for football and human rights, and for all refugee athletes. “I think that Fifa and the IOC needs to be talking sporting sanctions and the athletes need to be talking human rights,” he says. “And if those two things happen we will save Hakeem.” Sportblog Share on Pinterest It is a move that Brendan Schwab, the executive director of the World Players Association – which has worked tirelessly on Al-Araibi’s case – believes is overdue. “What we have to do as people involved in sport is to think through how we can maximise our leverage,” he told me. “Sporting sanctions are one of the key things.”Schwab, who is a lawyer and a trade union official, points out that Fifa’s rules on human rights protections compel the organisation as well as the AFC and the Bahrain and Thai FAs to help secure Al-Araibi’s freedom. “We realise that requires leveraging governments but football is uniquely positioned to do that because it has rules on human rights,” he added. “And if those rules are not upheld then football associations are not entitled to be part of the international football community. Football has said it is going to uphold human rights. So football needs to save Hakeem.”It would certainly help if more footballers spoke out, joining those from Australia where Al-Araibi was playing for Pascoe Vale FC before he was detained. Imagine the impact of prominent Premier League players shouting about the injustice of the case, or using the #SaveHakeem hashtag? British football is a global business, after all, with surveys suggesting that a larger percentage of the population in Thailand watches the Premier League than the UK. Share on Facebook comment Share via Emailcenter_img Topics Share on Messenger Pinterest Human rights Torture But sometimes soft power is not enough. The velvet boot needs iron studs. And when it comes to the shocking case of the jailed Bahraini national team player Hakeem al-Araibi, football needs to go in two-footed.Sunday marked two months since Al-Araibi’s detainment in Thailand after he was hit with an Interpol red notice following his arrival in Bangkok on his honeymoon. It originated from the same Bahraini authorities who tortured him in 2012, forcing him to flee the country, and was quickly withdrawn by Interpol, which should never have applied it in the first place. Yet Al-Araibi still languishes in prison – facing extradition back to Bahrain and a 10-year prison sentence for apparently vandalising a police station, even though he was playing in a televised match at the time.It would be farcical if it was not so tragic. To make matters more alarming, Al-Araibi suspects the hand of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa – a member of the ruling Bahrain royal family and the powerful president of the Asian Football Confederation – is behind his imprisonment because he was publicly critical of the Sheikh when the latter ran for Fifa president. “This is nothing to do with my conviction,” he told the Guardian last week. “Bahrain wants me back to punish me, because I talked to the media in 2016 about the terrible human rights and about how Sheikh Salman is a very bad man who discriminates against Shia Muslims.” In a response to the outcry, the Bahraini government has insisted Al-Araibi’s life is not in danger and he had only to return home and appeal his conviction because its court system was “independent and transparent” in line with international standards.At least in the last few days wheels have finally whirred into action, with Fifa writing to Thailand’s government expressing concern and asking for Al-Araibi to be returned to Australia, which granted him refugee status in 2017. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, who has championed the case of refugees and welcomed a refugee team to the Rio Olympics, has also urged a solution “based on human and humanitarian values”.These are classic acts of soft power. But with Al-Araibi stuck in jail awaiting a deadline of 8 February for Bahrain to apply for his extradition, they are not enough. It is time for Fifa and the IOC to threaten serious sporting sanctions if he is not released. But this goes beyond football given that Bahrain is one of many Gulf states using sport to soften its image. It sponsors the Bahrain-Merida cycling team, led by the former Giro D’Italia and Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, as well as hosting a Formula One grand prix, despite the 2011 race being cancelled after months of demonstrations against the regime.Yet the reality is that after those protests, 150 professional sports people were widely reported to have been arrested, detained, tortured, imprisoned or excluded from their sports for taking part in the pro-democracy demonstrations – including Al-Araibi, who now faces the chilling prospect of returning to the place he does not want to call home.Worryingly, Al-Araibi admits he is losing hope as he sits in his small concrete cell awaiting his fate. “I am so scared of being sent back to Bahrain,” he says. “So scared because 100% they will arrest me, they will torture me again, possibly they will kill me.” ‘Please help me’: refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi tells of his Thai jail ordeal Twitter Middle East and North Africa Read more Facebook Share on WhatsApp There is a striking story in The Club, Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson’s new book on how the Premier League went global, that illustrates football’s inimitable ability to tickle the erogenous zones of the powerful. It turns out that when British prime ministers want to make deals, their secret weapon is the Premier League trophy. As the league’s former CEO Richard Scudamore explains: “Everyone who sees it will say, ‘Wow’. Heads of state, prime ministers – they all want a photo with the trophy. It’s what we like to call soft power.” Share on LinkedInlast_img