Call for FIFA to ban Bahrain over refugee

Craig Foster says FIFA should ban Bahrain if it proceeds with its case against a refugee player.
Craig Foster says FIFA should ban Bahrain if it proceeds with its case against a refugee player.

Former Socceroo Craig Foster has called on FIFA to ban Bahrain from world soccer if it proceeds with its legal case against a refugee player, saying the "soul of the game" was at stake.

Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, is being held in a Bangkok remand prison while the Bahrain government prepares an official request for his extradition over a 2012 police station attack. His 60-day detention expires on February 8.

FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha overnight requesting Thailand return al-Araibi to Australia "as soon as possible".

Al-Araibi was granted refugee status by Australia in 2014 and plays for semi-professional Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne. Bahrain sentenced him to 10 years' jail in absentia.

Samoura also requested an urgent meeting with a high-level Thai government official and representatives of FIFA and Fifpro, the players' union, to discuss the case.

Foster, who is in Thailand campaigning for al-Araibi's release, welcomed the letter as a "step forward" but said it didn't go far enough.

The SBS soccer commentator said it was a seminal case to test the implementation of FIFA's recently adopted human rights policy which demands it use "maximum leverage" with stakeholders.

"The soul of the game, of football, is very much on the line," Foster told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Friday

He said it was incumbent on FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Samoura and FIFA as an organisation to threaten Bahrain with sporting sanctions if it proceeded with the attempts at refoulement, the forcible return of a refugee, via Thailand's legal system. Similar sanctions should be considered against Thailand.

"We are letting FIFA know that the entire football world knows that it is in your power to urge strongly to the Bahrain government not to submit that paperwork," he said.

"And if that submission is carried forward, there must be immediate sporting sanctions placed on the Bahrain FA and their membership and participation in global football."

Foster said if FIFA is successful in meeting with Thai officials, independent representatives should attend from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Centre for Sport and Human Rights.

He also said FIFA officials should meet with al-Araibi in prison to discuss his case.

The Swiss-based World Players' Association (WPA), which represents 85,000 players in over 60 countries, has called on Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Federation (AFC), to help win al-Araibi's release.

Al-Araibi, who claims he was playing in a televised game when the 2012 attack happened, had been a vocal critic of the Sheikh Salman, who is a member of the Bahraini royal family. The sheikh is up for re-election as president of the AFC in April.

Foster said the fact the sheik had been implicated "in some or any way" in the Bahraini government's crackdown on athletes in 2011-2012 and his silence on al-Araibi's situation should exclude him from seeking a third term.

Al-Araibi was detained by Thai officials last November on an Interpol Red Notice on Bahrain's request as he arrived in Bangkok for a holiday with his wife.

Australian Associated Press