Sportsmen feel heat from Bahrain regime

April 11, 2011 - 0:0

Four Bahraini footballers have been arrested and more than 200 sportsmen suspended for taking part in anti-government protests that threaten the Persian Gulf kingdom’s ruling family.

A ‘senior football official’, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press action was taken against the players because “they are against the government.”
Leading figures from a number of sports, including basketball and handball, have also been suspended by their clubs after being accused of protesting against the government.
The move could leave Bahrain in breach of international rules separating politics and sport. All the men suspended are Shia Muslims.
At least 28 people have died and hundreds have been injured in the regime’s efforts to suppress the pro-democracy movement.
A’ala and Mohammed Hubail, stars of the national football team, were arrested during training with their club, al-Ahli, on Tuesday, after state television broadcast footage of the brothers attending a pro-democracy rally in Pearl Square in Manama.
A’ala Hubail, 28, was the most inspiring figure for both the Al Ahli Club and the national team. Known in Bahrain as the ‘Golden Boy’, Ala’a became the first Bahraini to win the ‘Golden Boot’ award after scoring five goals during the Beijing Asian Cup 2004. A paramedic before he turned professional, he worked as a volunteer nurse during the protests.
The program on Bahrain TV, the mouthpiece of the regime, set out to name and shame sports stars taking part in the protests. The channel denounced the protesters as “stray hyenas”.
Since the broadcast, dozens of sportsmen and officials, all of them Shia, have been suspended. They include FIFA referee Jaffar Alkhabaz and Mohammed Sayed Adnan, notorious for missing a penalty in the World Cup playoffs against New Zealand last year. Several leading basketball, volleyball, and handball players have also been banned by their clubs from competition.
The Bahrain Football Association met yesterday to discuss the crisis but officials admit that they are in uncharted territory. “The suspension falls under misconduct, and the breaching of the rules and regulations of sporting clubs… not to engage in any political affairs,” the association said in a statement.
Dragging sport into the kingdom’s sectarian conflict will only deepen the growing divide in Bahraini society. Al-Ahli has successfully straddled the two communities. While most clubs in Bahrain fall loosely along sectarian lines, Al-Ahli is owned by a wealthy Sunni merchant family but most of its players and fans are Shia.
The suspensions have also hampered the association’s plan to resume Bahraini Premier League matches, which were suspended in February.
The Bahrain Olympic Committee last month postponed for the second time the first edition of the GCC Games until September because of the island’s political turmoil. The Olympic committee made no mention of the protests, justifying the delay instead by saying it gave Persian Gulf sportspeople more time to prepare for the games.
Since the Bahraini military moved in to smash the encampment in Pearl Square last month, the government has kept up the pressure on Shia communities with frequent raids and arrests. Opposition politicians have been jailed along with doctors, teachers, lawyers, and bloggers suspected of sympathizing with the protests. Opposition groups claim that more than 300 people are in custody. More than 100 are missing, with countless accusations of human rights abuses.
A standoff is developing in the Persian Gulf since an Arab taskforce, led by Saudi Arabia, arrived in Bahrain last month to support the crackdown.