Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Shaikh Salman Didn't Say

This whole furore over Shaikh Salman's possible involvement in the alleged arrest and torture of Bahraini national team players during the Pearl Revolution of 2011 leaves an awful lot of important questions unanswered.

There is no doubt that torture did take place as a result of the uprising, as admitted by Bahrain's Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Kamal Ahmad, in this BBC newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman.

The list of torture methods outlined by Paxman is shocking, yet there is no denial from the Khalifa Government's representative, so in my opinion it is fair to assume that torture was systemic (and probably still is). I have no reason to doubt that those citizens brave enough to protest against the minority government of the royal family, which has ruled Bahrain since 1783, underwent some quite horrific human rights abuses, whether or not they were athletes who had previously represented their country at international level. To be clear, Shaikh Salman was the President of the Bahrain Football Association at the time these events are alleged to have occurred, and he is member of the royal family that permitted (if not encouraged) these abuses to take place.

I personally found it suspicious that when these allegations first came to light, Salman's initial response was not to deny them categorically and condemn torture, but instead to ask for proof. Perhaps I've watched too many police dramas on TV, but my impression is that when people are guilty, their first line of defence is to say, "You can't prove it."

Just one question! If I had been accused of being complicit in human rights abuses and was entirely innocent, I would refute the allegations in the strongest possible terms while simultaneously expressing my absolute opposition to torture.

I also find it interesting that Salman's response in this October 2015 BBC interview with Richard Conway was, "It's not just damaging me, it's damaging the people and the country. These are false, nasty lies that have been repeated again and again in the past and the present."

Was he saying that the torture didn't take place, or that it did take place but he personally wasn't involved? In my opinion his argument that the "false, nasty lies" are damaging the people and the country, would suggest that he was trying to argue the former, when we already know that Kamal Ahmad didn't deny torture did take place. Whether that torture was committed against athletes or not seems to be a moot point. Surely torture against any citizen is far more damaging to the country and the people than reporting that it has occurred is.

If Shaikh Salman was arguing that torture did occur but he personally wasn't involved, that doesn't seem any less damaging to the people and the country than if he had been involved.

It is disappointing to me that he has never made any statement, at least that I am aware of, decrying torture or condemning the actions of the Bahrain government that arrested and killed Bahraini citizens who were seemingly carrying out peaceful protests.

At 14:23 in the Richard Conway interview video, Salman deliberately interrupts Conway to make a point of raising the issue of the infamous alleged Committee that he was rumoured to have led, mocking the suggestion that such a Committee would exist. And yet we are aware that such a Committee was suggested, because as reported in The Guardian, it says so on the Official Bahrain News Agency website, so its existence doesn't seem so unlikely.

After this information came to light, Salman admitted in this Fox Sports report that despite his earlier denials, there actually was such a Committee, but argued, "This is a committee that's been asked to look (at events) within the sports law, not the civil law ... but never met because it cannot look into responsibility beyond its restriction.''

If that was true, why not come clean in the interview with Richard Conway and state outright that the government  formed a Committee with him as Chairman but it never met because doing so would be illegal, instead of trying to pretend that the mere suggestion of such a committee existing would be ridiculous?

(In passing,  I also find it interesting that in this interview Salman claims to be a relative newcomer, with only two years involvement with FIFA, unlike some of the others who have been involved for over a decade, but later in the interview, when asked about the human rights abuses, and perhaps when he thinks a long association with FIFA would be of benefit to him, he mentions he's been involved with FIFA tournaments for thirteen years.)

This Daily Mail article by Nick Harris for The Mail on Sunday goes even further:
The statement said the committee had convened the previous day in a meeting chaired by Sheik Salman. He now denies it ever met. Sources close to him say legal advice was that the committee should not proceed.
A statement from Sheik Salman said: 'While it was 0proposed (sic) that Sheik Salman lead a fact-finding committee, that committee was never formally established and never conducted any business whatsoever. Sheik Salman had nothing to do with that proposal and played no part in any sanctions taken against any individuals in 2011.'
Again what I find most striking, other than the obvious contradiction between the official government statement saying that the Committee had met, and Salman's outright denial that it had, is that instead of taking the opportunity to condemn the very idea of Bahrain's citizens being tortured for protesting, it suggests that Salman's only reason for not taking part was because of legal advice. It leaves me with the impression that he would have been happy to be involved if he thought it were legal to do so.

The last sentence of the quote above also seemingly admits that sanctions were indeed taken against individuals in 2011.

There are also issues raised by the reported relegation of two clubs by the Bahrain Football Association, as reported in The Guardian. In case there is any doubt as to whether this happened, here's the 2010-11 Bahrain league table as displayed on the Bet365 website:

As can be seen, two clubs, Al Shabbab and Malkia, have records indicating they played zero games. Al Shabbab had finished seventh the previous season and Malkia ninth, after which they won a play-off to retain their place in the top division. So this relegation was imposed for reasons unrelated to performance on the field.

Was the punishment imposed by the Bahrain Football Association? If so, why? There has been no reason supplied that I can find, despite transparency being one of the values that Shaikh Salman includes numerous times in his FIFA election manifesto.

Here's one such example from Page 3:

So where is the transparency about the relegation of two clubs from Bahrain's top division in 2011 for reasons other than performance on the field?

Perhaps Shaikh Salman might argue that these clubs were relegated as the result of decisions made by someone other than the Bahrain Football Association (i.e. the Bahrain Government) and that therefore he couldn't legally intervene. But such an argument would be very problematic for the Bahrain Football Association, because it would surely constitute third party interference in football which under FIFA Statutes must necessarily result in suspension from FIFA, just as has occurred recently with Kuwait under the leadership of Shaikh Salman's close ally, Shaikh Ahmad.

There is some history worth noting with Malkia, which is a small Shia fishing village on the outskirts of Manama. In 2007 there were widespread protests after a member of the ruling Khalifa family seized some local coastline potentially threatening the local fishermen's livelihoods. The reportedly peaceful protests were met with truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

And then there is the extremely troubling evidence of the Bahrain international players who never again played for their country. The six players to suffer this fate reportedly included the Jubail brothers, A'ala and Mohammed, who at 31 and 29 respectively, were hardly too old to keep being key members of the national team. This article in the Kyiv Post is well worth reading, in my opinion, along with this from The National based in the United Arab Emirates..

To make matters worse for Bahrain, after falling at the last hurdle to Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 World Cup Qualifying and New Zealand in 2010 World Cup Qualifying, their performances under Peter Taylor in 2014 World Cup Qualifying were worse than expected, no doubt partly because of the loss of key players for unexplained reasons and partly because, as explained in this Al Jazeera article:

I'm surprised the poor state of Bahrain's national team and domestic league under Shaikh Salman's regime hasn't been raised before by any of the numerous Shaik Salman critics out there.

So to summarise, we first had allegations that Shaikh Salman was involved in illegal arrest, detainment and torture of Bahraini footballers as the leader of a committee that identified athletes involved in the Pearl Revolution protests.

This was followed by Salamn asking for proof that he was involved.

When further pressed he called the allegations nasty lies, yet when interviewed, Bahraini Cabinet Affairs Minister, Kamal Ahmad, made no attempt to refute the allegations of torture and seemed to confirm them.

Salman also seemed to go out of his way to mock the idea that an identification Committee would be set up with him in charge.

However the Bahrain Official News Agency's own website then provided evidence that such a committee was at least planned and Salman was the intended leader.

At this point, Salman admitted that the Committee did exist but said it never met, not because it would be outrageous and unethical to have such a committee, but because it would be illegal.

There are further reports in various newspapers that the committee did actually meet.

We know two teams were relegated from Bahrain's top division for reasons other than their performance on the field, but because of a lack of transparency, we don't know what the reasons are or whether the punishment was imposed by the Bahrain Football Association or the Khalifa Government, which would clearly constitute illegal government interference in football affairs.

We know that there are plenty of websites that contain articles in which some of the players say they were arrested, detained and tortured.

We know that a number of players who had previously appeared for the national team suddenly stopped being selected.

We know that Salman seemingly did nothing to protect these players.

We know that soon after this Bahrain's national football team started performing less well than it had in the preceding years.

And still Shaikh Salman sticks to his version of the events. And still as far as I can ascertain, he has not yet condemned what happened to athletes in Bahrain's jails in 2011.

I'm not telling you what to think about Shaikh Salman and whether or not he, as a member of a family that has for the past 233 years ruled Bahrain, a country with numerous alleged human rights violations made by multiple different human rights watch groups, would be a suitable candidate to be FIFA President.

But I've made my mind up.

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