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Accused-Torturer Bahrain Prince to Launch $19M Cycling Team, Sports Websites Say Prince "Necessary Evil" for Saving Cycling

2016-06-03 - 3:15 am

Bahrain Mirror: The Middle East Eye said that Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa "accused of torturing prisoners during the country's 2011 uprising is behind plans to create a professional cycling team to compete in the UCI WorldTour," adding that the prince is expected to unveil Bahrain's new cycling team at Tour De France next month to the dismay of human rights campaigners.

Meanwhile, Deadspin website, describing the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain as "something like a smaller Qatar: extremely rich, friendly with the United States, and run by a single family," stressed that "while Qatar (allegedly) purchased the World Cup-bringing with it thousands of dead slaves-Bahrain, being smaller, appears to have set its sporting ambitions a notch lower. Rather than try to buy an Olympics or a World Cup, Bahraini royalty appears to be headed towards professional cycling."

"It appears that Prince will get involved to some degree, bringing much-needed cash to a sport seemingly locked in an existential crisis. Professional cycling is cash-strapped and might very well embrace him. This is a mistake. Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa has been credibly accused of personally torturing pro-democracy dissidents, and he's not the savior the sport needs," the website added. "Given cycling's tumultuous financial situation, he probably looks like a necessary evil."

Deadspin further noted that "Sheikh Nasser's new team will also be a personally-financed luxury project, somewhat akin to a much-less visible version of Qatar sponsoring Barcelona for propaganda reasons."

The author of the deadspin article Patrick Redford stressed that "if 28 more riders get stable jobs and a new part of the world gets into the sport, that's good! But the Prince is a credibly-accused torturer, and he's not going to save cycling."

The article also highlighted that "Sheikh Nasser was briefly prosecuted by a British court and had his diplomatic immunity stripped, but it doesn't appear that he'll face any penalties or be confined to the island (he was riding horses in France a week ago)."

19-Million Dollar Cycling Team

On his Instagram account, Nasser bin Hamad posted a picture with a caption that said: "Bahrain Cycling 

Team will inspire, race hard, and look elegant."

š«’— »š Õ„Ō

The prince, apart from his initial Instagram post, has been quiet and spending his time racing h

orses and in triathlons. Earlier this month, he competed at a horse show England's Windsor Endurance Race. Instead, he is putting faith in those close to the sport, noted the Cycling Weekly website.

Cycling Weekly added that the Middle East's first WorldTour team is quietly preparing to debut in 2017 with Italian star Vincenzo Nibali with the funding of Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The prince plans to present the Bahraini team at the Tour de France in July.

"Bahrain boasts a £22.5 billion gross domestic product, but Prince Nasser's debut will not be a big splash. Instead, the budget will be around £11.5 to £13.7 million (€15 to €18m), according to an insider. For comparison, Sky's is around £24 million," it further highlighted.

Once the budget is confirmed, the team will ask for a WorldTour licence from the UCI. The team will be completely Bahrain-based, but with European headquarters likely to be in Bergamo, Italy.

Nibali is currently racing the Giro d'Italia, but already told those close to him to be ready for the switch from team Astana at the end of 2016. Nibali should take along team-mates Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli, masseur Michele Pallini, trainer Paolo Slongo and team manager Giuseppe Martinelli. Cycling Weekly understands that Nibali asked Sky's Nicolas Roche about joining him in the Middle East's first top team.

Specialized bicycles will not continue with Nibali. The American bicycle manufacturer will back only one or two teams in 2017: Etixx-QuickStep and Peter Sagan's team, which will not be in Bahrain. Bianchi, which does not have a deal with LottoNL-Jumbo for next year, could help the team roll into the season. Sportful will outfit the team, assuming team Tinkoff closes.

Nasser's Crimes Listed in Detail on Sports Websites
The Deadspin sports website went on to list further details regarding the accusations raised against the prince. It highlighted that in the aftermath of 2011's pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, several demonstrators accused Sheikh Nasser of a litany of abuses. During the protests, he went on state-sponsored TV and threatened protestors, telling them they had "nowhere to escape to." According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, he was also personally involved in the torture of prisoners, including elderly people and foreign citizens.

Deadspin added that the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has more, and their report paints a picture of a man who seemed to enjoy violently squashing dissent. This isn't out of character for a nation who imprisoned journalists, had one of the leaders of the movement executed by Saudi Arabia (another U.S. ally), and straight up killed protestors while they were sleeping.

The website also listed a number of testimonies made by prisoners in Bahrain, including Mohammed Hassan Jawad (64 yrs old), who was blindfolded and handcuffed when Nasser Bin Hamad asked him "do you know who I am, it's Nasser with you" Then the son of the king started interrogating Mr. Jawad about the Safriya protest and accusing him of organizing the protest. To force him to confess, Nasser beat Mr. Jawad with a hose on his head until he fell to the ground. Then Nasser started kicking him mostly on his back, while swearing at shia clerics and imams.

In another case, three of the activists arrested and sentenced for attempting to overthrow the regime also reported that they had been beaten by members of the royal family. The first, Abdulla Isa Al-Mahroos, said he was beaten by Nasser Bin hamad Al Khalifa, and that Nassar forced him to open his mouth then spat in his mouth.

The second is Swedish citizen Mohammed Habib Al-Muqdad, who was detained in an underground prison in the National Security Apparatus in the Fort. Al-Muqdad recalls that while being tortured suddenly everybody was silent. He heard his torturers say "your majesty" someone asked him "do you know who I am?" When Al-Muqdad said no, his blindfold was removed and the man in front of him said "I'm Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. When you protested outside our castle in Safriya, only a wall separated us". Then Nasser asked Al-Muqdad what chants he had said that day at the protest. When Almuqdad said "Down Down Hamad" Nasser slapped Al-Muqdad who fell to the ground, then with the help of torturers beat him severely.

For his part, Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told Middle East Eye: "The UCI WorldTour will suffer severe reputational damage if they admit Prince Nasser's team to the sport. Those who allege to [have been] tortured by Prince Nasser continue to languish unjustly in Bahrain's notorious prisons."

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