» News

New York Times: Shadow of Human Rights Abuse Follows Contender in FIFA Vote

2016-02-26 - 9:33 p

Bahrain Mirror: "Nothing has rocked international soccer quite like the waves of arrests made across several continents last year as the United States announced bribery and corruption charges against the men running the sport, the world's biggest and richest. But as the organization that governs global soccer gathers this week to choose a new president, a leading contender risks stirring up another source of controversy for the sport: human rights," reported The New York Times.

In an article by Rebecca R. Ruiz, the US daily further said that "with the election set to be held here on Friday, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family of Bahrain and the president of the governing body for soccer in Asia, might already have the support of a commanding number of voting countries, making him one of the favorites, with Gianni Infantino, to replace Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA."

"Critics have seized on one aspect of Sheikh Salman's background that remains unclear: They want FIFA to investigate whether he had any connection to the jailing and torture of Bahraini athletes who peacefully protested his family's rule in 2011 during the Arab Spring," the newspaper added.

Quoting Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of advocacy for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, the article read: "But even in the face of such staunch denials, activists have requested that FIFA conduct an inquiry. ‘By refusing to adequately investigate these allegations and allowing Sheikh Salman to potentially lead world football, FIFA is putting a noose around its neck.'"

When Swiss prosecutors come knocking on FIFA's door

If elected, Sheikh Salman could bring protesters like Mr. Al-Wadaei to FIFA's doorstep just as the organization has signaled that human rights are a priority, it noted.

The other prominent contender for FIFA's presidency is Infantino, of Switzerland. But Sheikh Salman's ability to gather critical support has signaled that power in global soccer, long concentrated in Europe, might be shifting toward the Middle East.

Sheikh Salman, who lives in Bahrain's capital, Manama, said that, if elected, he would be a "roving president," spending time in Zurich as necessary but focused on traveling to small countries where soccer has been underdeveloped.

"He's said he won't take FIFA out of Switzerland," Mr. Roger Pielke Jr., a political scientist who has studied the organization and its governance, tells New York Times. "But let's see what happens when Swiss prosecutors are knocking on the door. You could imagine any of the candidates pulling up stakes and going to the Middle East."

The New York Times further stated: "A private person about whom few personal details are known, Sheikh Salman declined to be interviewed in person or by phone. He answered some questions by email but refused to speak about his family and referred questions about human rights and the Arab Spring protests to his lawyers, who denied activists' allegations."

"At the same time, Sheikh Salman has put forth a more Western image in photographs on his campaign website, appearing more often in suits or jeans than in traditional Bahraini dress," it added.

Bahrain national team member tells his story to New York Times

Hakeem al-Oraibi, a former soccer player for Bahrain's national team, said he felt that Asia had been underrepresented within world soccer but that Sheikh Salman was not the person to advance it and represent the sport globally.


Mr. Oraibi was arrested in November 2012 while walking to a cafe in Bahrain to watch a Real Madrid-Barcelona game. He was accused of vandalizing a police station at a time when he had been playing in a match that had been aired on live television, he said.

The newspaper stressed that "multiple officers beat him while he was in jail, Mr. Oraibi said in a phone interview from Melbourne, Australia, where he sought asylum in 2014. ‘They blindfolded me,' he said. ‘They held me really tight, and one started to beat my legs really hard, saying: You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future.'"

Mr. Oraibi said he believed he had been arrested because he was a Shiite Muslim and because of his brother's political activism in Bahrain. His brother is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Bahrain's soccer association, led by Sheikh Salman at the time, did not engage with requests from Mr. Oraibi's sister and lawyers to confirm his alibi and exonerate him, Mr. Oraibi said. He remained in jail for three months and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he avoided by fleeing Bahrain, the paper further highlighted.

Arabic Issue


comments powered by Disqus