Sport Football Hakeem al-Araibi criticises FFA’s support of AFC president Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa

Hakeem al-Araibi criticises FFA’s support of AFC president Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa

AFC president Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa with FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the 2017 AFC Annual Awards in November 2017 at Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Getty
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Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi says he is “shocked and disappointed” Football Federation Australia is supporting the re-election bid of Asian Football Confederation president Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who he claims failed to protect his human rights.

The Bahrain-born footballer was responding to an FFA statement in which its chairman Chris Nikou said Sheik Salman was “the best-credentialled candidate to continue to lead the development of football both in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Asia more broadly”.

Amnesty International Australia alleged FIFA senior vice-president Sheik Salman, who is a member of the Bahraini royal family, “failed to seek the release of Hakeem al-Araibi when he was detained in Thailand”.

Al-Araibi, 25, was held in detention in Thailand for several months until his release in February after being arrested over alleged vandalism offences in Bahrain.

A Bahraini court sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison over claims by Bahraini authorities that he and a group of protesters attacked a police station with petrol bombs during the Arab Spring uprising.

Hakeem al-Araibi with his citizenship certificate in Melbourne on March 12. Photo: Getty

Al-Araibi, who received Australian citizenship last week, said he was appalled FFA had expressed its support for Sheik Salman’s bid to be re-elected AFC president, a position he has held since 2013.

“I am shocked and disappointed that the FFA has decided to continue to support a person who oversaw my detention and torture in Bahrain,” Al-Araibi said in a statement issued by Amnesty International Australia.

“How can he (Sheik Salman) be a ‘fit and proper’ leader for football in our region?

“The head of the FFA, Chris Nikou, must address these concerns and ask serious questions about how they do not breach FFA’s own human rights policy.”

Nikou said FFA was “acutely aware” Al-Araibi’s detention had caused some concern regarding the role of the AFC.

He said the FFA had been in “regular dialogue” with the AFC, FIFA and the Australian government to “ensure appropriate steps were taken to support efforts for Al-Araibi’s release”.

“We did this privately by lobbying those in positions of influence and ultimately, through the work of many, the right outcome was achieved,” Nikou said.

Foster slams FFA for supporting Sheik Salman

Retired Socceroo Craig Foster, who played a major role in the campaign for Al-Araibi’s release, tweeted it was “sickening” FFA was supporting Shaikh Salman’s bid for re-election.

Foster, an outspoken critic of FFA, questioned Sheik Salman’s candidacy over his knowledge of a crackdown on athletes in 2011.

Sheik Salman was implicated in a specific targeting of some Bahraini athletes who spoke out about human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Foster also accused Sheik Salman of failing to uphold the FIFA human rights policy by refusing to advocate for the release of Al-Araibi when he was being held in detention.

Professional Footballers Australia said it was concerned about FFA’s decision to support Sheik Salman’s bid for re-election.

PFA president John Didulica said Sheik Salman had failed to “protect and promote the human rights of one of the game’s players” and had demonstrated a “breathtaking failure as the continent’s highest office-holder”.

The AFC elections will be held on April 6.

The other candidates for the election are UAE’s Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi and Qatar’s Saoud A Aziz A Al-Mohannadi.