Australia’s peak football body has called on FIFA to ban Asian Football Confederation president Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa from any official position within the sport over the detention of Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi.
The nation’s Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) is also advocating the suspension of Thailand and Bahrain from FIFA for failing to meet their human rights obligations if his detention continues.
The Pascoe Vale player, 25, had just arrived in Thailand on his honeymoon in late November when he was detained based on an Interpol red notice issued at Bahrain’s request.
Former Socceroo Craig Foster and international player’s advocate Brendan Schwab met FIFA officials in Zurich overnight to put their case that Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa has failed in his fundamental responsibility to advocate for and protect the human rights of those in football and is, therefore, unfit for office.
“It’s very clear that his position is untenable now given he can’t execute a core role of the office of (AFC) president he has no place remaining in that position,” PFA CEO John Didulica told The New Daily.
“Any prospects he might have of nominating for re-election surely can’t proceed given his incapacity, inability and unwillingness to perform what is a fundamental duty he has as president, which is the protection and promotion of the human rights of the game’s participants.”
Foster and Schwab met FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura, and also made a request for Bahrain and Thailand to be subject to sanctions for their failure to adhere to human rights obligations.
“We need to see sanctions put on the table. We need to see further urgency from Bahrain and Thailand (football administrations) and we need to see much more direct action taken towards Bahrain immediately,” Foster told The New Daily.
Al-Araibi is a professional footballer who is a refugee from Bahrain, living in Australia. He has publicly said that if he was ever forced to return to his home country, he would be killed.
Despite Interpol’s red notice since being rescinded, al-Araibi remains in custody in Thailand pending a formal extradition request from Bahrain to extradite him.
The former Bahraini international footballer fled the country following the Arab Spring protests of 2011, which saw him convicted of vandalism – a charge that has been widely discredited.
Al-Araibi has repeatedly spoken out against the Bahraini royal family, of which Sheik Salman is a senior member.
Any extradition to a country from which a refugee has fled contravenes the UNCHR 1951 Convention on Refugees, however, Thailand is not a signatory to the agreement.
Hello @RabiehKrayem this is for you to help raise funds for #SaveHakeem .. you auction and I’ll sign and personalise the retro shirt to whoever the winning bidder is.. hope that’s ok pic.twitter.com/2FAr3yGp2m
— Robbie Fowler (@Robbie9Fowler) January 19, 2019
In recent days the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has written to Thai officials to demand al-Araibi’s release.
The IOC said its president Thomas Bach “has personally discussed this worrying situation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.
The IOC said its “full support for the FIFA actions in order to find a solution based on basic human and humanitarian values” has been conveyed to the Thai government by IOC member Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul.
The AFC, in contrast, continues to equivocate, saying that it “continues to work with FIFA … to find a solution”.
In a statement, the AFC said senior vice president Praful Patel is handling the matter and not president Sheik Salman, to prevent any “conflict of interest”.
The AFC insists that Sheik Salman’s recusal in this matter is satisfactory in the circumstance but Didulica is adamant their position falls well short of their obligations to al-Araibi.
“Any extradition of Hakeem to Bahrain would breach his internationally recognised human rights,” Didulica said.
“Like the Olympic movement, football has a specific responsibility under its statutes to exercise whatever leverage it has to ensure the protection and promotion of internationally recognised human rights.
“From our perspective, for FIFA or the AFC to suspend the memberships of Bahrain and Thailand whilst Hakeem is not released or pending an investigation of their roles in the matter – that can be the only solution.
“Unless we see evidence that they’ve actually moved heaven and earth to free Hakeem and use whatever leverage they have to return him, protect his internationally recognised human rights and allow him to return to Australia, they can not be allowed to continue their membership of FIFA or the IOC.”
Foster remains sceptical that football’s governing body will be willing to use its power to shift the deadlock.
“This is the test. No one can be confident in what the officials who govern world sport are going to do. I don’t place my faith in the officials but in the people who are fighting alongside me and the principle that we’re fighting for,” Foster said.
“FIFA and the Bahrain and Thai governments know by now, we’re not going to stop until every single stakeholder is held fully accountable in public and that no political dealings are going to compromise the life of this young man.
“We’re not going to stop until he’s free.”