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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bahrain tells FIFA no soccer players disciplined in crackdown on anti-regime protesters

Bahrain soccer players Mohamed Hubail, left, and his brother A’ala, right, after they were released from detention. (File photo)

Bahrain soccer players Mohamed Hubail, left, and his brother A’ala, right, after they were released from detention. (File photo)
Bahraini soccer officials have assured world soccer body FIFA that none of its national soccer players has been disciplined or sanctioned for alleged participation in anti-government demonstrations earlier this year, according to FIFA.

Bahrain gave the assurances in response to a request by FIFA for full details of the reported detention in early April of Bahraini soccer players in preparation of an investigation into whether the government has interfered politically in the sport.
Three national soccer team players were reportedly detained two months ago and some 150 others athletes, coaches and referees suspended for their alleged support of the protests.

One of the soccer players, Mohammed Hubail, is believed to have been sentenced last month to two years in prison on charges of attempting to topple the Bahraini monarchy and having links to a foreign terrorist organization.

Bahrain backed by its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies has asserted that the demonstrations were instigated by Iran in a bid to destabilize the island and sow sectarian discord.

Mr. Hubail’s soccer playing brother, Alaa, was also said to have been on trial last month for his participation in the demonstrations. Alaa is reported to have worked as a medic during the demonstrations.

FIFA could suspend Bahrain if an investigation were to conclude that the government had intervened for political reasons in the Gulf island’s soccer. It could also could jeopardize Bahrain’s participation in the next round of Asian Olympic qualifiers which begins in September.

A FIFA investigation could also affect the chances of Bahrain Football Association (BFA) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family, to succeed disgraced Qatari national Mohamed Bin Hammam as head of the powerful Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Sheikh Salman is widely viewed as the frontrunner for the job.

FIFA’s ethic committee is expected to announce later this month that its investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam shows that he engaged in bribery during his campaign to become president of the world body. Mr. Bin Hammam could be banned from further involvement in soccer.

The Bahrain Football Association said in April that six clubs had withdrawn from domestic leagues following the protests and the arrests. BFA Vice President Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa said at the time that the clubs had withdrawn because of “pressure from Shiite political groups.”

Three of the clubs as well as a Bahraini human right group claimed however that the clubs from mostly Shiite villages had not withdrawn voluntarily but had been suspended for two years and fined $20,000. The group, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said the clubs had been suspended because they had stopped playing during the protests because they felt it was too dangerous and also in honor of protesters killed in the government’s crackdown.

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