Human Rights Groups: Bahrain Cycling Team Participation in France Race is a Front to Whitewash Bahrain’s Image
2019-07-10 - 2:09 am
Bahrain Mirror: Bahrain Cycling Team (Bahrain-Merida) has denied allegations that its participation in the Tour de France aims to polish the image of Bahrain in the world through sport, claiming that they are ill-targeted and illogical because the team is completely distinct and separate from the Bahraini government..
Human rights groups sent a letter to the UCI, the cycling governing body, protesting its licensing of the Bahrain Cycling Team and its participation in the Tour de France, which kicked off on Saturday, due to human rights concerns.
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."
Addressed personally to the UCI president, David Lappartient, 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".
The signatories, also including Transparency International Germany and the Committee to Protect Journalists, urge the UCI to disclose its review of the team's ethical compliance conducted as part of the licensing process and to consider the human rights abuses highlighted when reviewing the team's licence for next season.
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. The website states that the team project began "with a casual bike ride in the desert of Bahrain between His Highness Sheikh Nasser and Vincenzo Nibali"
It is noteworthy that brigadier-general in the Bahrain army and commander of the Royal Guard, Sheikh Nasser who is a senior figure in the country's sports institutions, chairing the Olympic committee until March this year, called publicly in 2011, 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."
More than 150 professional sportspeople were reported to have been arrested, detained, tortured, imprisoned or excluded from their sports during the crackdown, for taking part in pro democracy demonstrations. Representatives of Sheikh Nasser say that he had no personal involvement in identifying any athletes nor in any suspensions or arrests, although he has faced accusations of personally taking part in torture and a case was filed against hom in the United Kingdom.
International concern for human rights has focused on the gulf kingdom of Bahrain since the regime's brutal crackdown of popular demonstrations during the 2011 Arab spring, in which 28 civilians died, including five people who had been tortured while in government custody. The most recent Amnesty International report, for 2017-18, referred to in the letter, noted deepening repression, including the deaths of five men and one child, and hundreds of people injured, due to excessive force, including live ammunition being used against protestors; "scores of people sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials", and at least 150 people stripped of their nationality.
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