AFC Asia Cup match between Bahrain and Thailand shows world is watching how global football leaders use leverage to ensure Bahraini refugee and footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is released from Thai prison.
In Dubai today, Bahrain and Thailand face off on the football pitch in the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. However, off the pitch, the two countries have teamed up to unjustly imprison Melbourne footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain for fear of his safety and was granted asylum in Australia. Despite strong international outcry by players, player unions, clubs, public authorities and human rights defenders, Thai authorities continue to carry out procedures to illegally return al-Araibi to Bahrain, in violation of international treaties to which Thailand is signatory.
World Players Association Executive Director Brendan Schwab urged football leaders at all levels to do everything in their power to ensure al-Araibi’s release and safe return home to Australia. “The world is watching to see how the highest officials within FIFA, the AFC, and the football federations in Thailand, Bahrain, and Australia are addressing this human rights crisis in football,” Schwab said. “No issue is more important to football as a global and universal game than protecting vulnerable people such as refugee players from detention and torture. Any custodian of the game who fails to act to protect Hakeem will therefore fail football and must surely render his or her position untenable. Severe sanctions against the Bahrain and Thai FAs would necessarily follow.”
Following this week’s meeting of the Football Federation of Australia with AFC President and FIFA Vice-President Sheikh Salman bin Al Khalifa, who is a member of the Royal Family in Bahrain, Schwab reiterated his statement made on behalf of World Players affiliates at the Sporting Chance Forum in Paris in December 2018 demanding that Sheikh Salman break his silence and uphold the duties of his offices in accordance with the FIFA Human Rights Policy to exercise his leverage on behalf of al-Araibi. Schwab also welcomed FIFA’s statement yesterday on al-Araibi’s case calling for a “humane and speedy resolution”. Schwab urged FIFA’s General Secretary and President to exert even greater pressure.
“Hakeem has languished in jail unfairly and needlessly for far too long while Thai and Bahraini authorities have resisted the regular routes to resolve this mess,” Schwab said. “FIFA has the tools in its toolbelt to make Thailand and Bahrain pay attention, and the urgency of this case demands that football’s top officials, up to and including Fatma Samoura and Gianni Infantino, stop at nothing to save Hakeem.”
“Moreover, the future of the global sport and human rights project will be judged based on whether Hakeem is set free and returns safely to his life as a footballer for Pascoe Vale FC, or whether he is sent back to Bahrain to face torture or worse based on purely politically-motivated charges. The fact that it has taken this long, despite the immense leverage and influence available to football’s top officials, shows we still have a lot of work to do to make human rights a permanent reality in the world of sport.”