21 January 2016 – The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) today wrote to FIFA’s eight leading sponsors raising serious concern regarding Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa’s run for the FIFA presidency. Sheikh Salman, current Asia Football Confederation president and member of the Bahrain royal family, has been under media scrutiny since submitting his candidacy for the presidency for his conduct as Bahrain FA president in 2011, when the country witnessed Arab Spring protests.
The NGO’s letter to FIFA sponsors Coca-cola, McDonalds, Visa, Adidas, Budweiser, Gazprom, Hyundai and KIA lays out evidence that Sheikh Salman, as Bahrain FA president in 2011, was involved in the administration of politically motivated sanctions against footballers, athletes and clubs in the island kingdom.
The letter to sponsors details how in April 2011, during a state of martial law in the country, Sheikh Salman was appointed to head an investigative committee mandated to identify and punish players who participated in Arab Spring protests in February and March that year.
A week later, Sheikh Salman convened and chaired a meeting of the Bahrain FA’s administrative council, which relegated and fined six football clubs. These clubs had previously written to Sheikh Salman and requested a freeze in all football activities after a brutal police crackdown on protesters saw several dead and hundreds more injured. According to an official press release at the time, Sheikh Salman’s Bahrain FA “highlighted the importance of abiding by the decisions of the Investigative Committee, which concern whomever has recently offended our leaders and precious kingdom, and the importance of excluding whomever is proven to have participated in these offensive acts, including administrators, referees and committee members of the Bahrain FA.” Sheikh Salman has previously denied that the Investigative Committee ever met or took any decisions.
BIRD further state that affected players have alleged they were tortured in that time. They raise the case of Alaa Hubail, Bahrain national team star striker, who was arrested during martial law in 2011, and who gave his account of torture in detention to ESPN journalists. The letter points out that Sheikh Salman has publicly denied that any athletes were tortured, despite Hubail’s account.
FIFA has come under increased pressure for reform in the past year, particularly from Coca-cola, who called for wholesale reform last summer to make the organisation accountable, credible, ethical and in line with human rights
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “We hope FIFA’s sponsors consider our letter very seriously and respond immediately and appropriately. Sheikh Salman led the politicised punishment of clubs and denies the torture Bahraini players underwent. Coca-cola have called for an accountable FIFA. What happened in Bahrain was a black mark on its history, and Sheikh Salman must be held accountable for the part he played.“