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Open Democracy: Bahrain Adopts “Sports Diplomacy” to Distract Int’l stakeholders from HR violations

2016-09-29 - 11:44 p

Bahrain Mirror- Exclusive: Open Democracy website published an article indicating that Bahrain adopts "Sports Diplomacy" to distract international stakeholders from human rights violations.

Karim Zidan of Open democracy website stated that the inaugural combat sports event entitled Brave Combat Federation (BCF) is taking place in Khalifa Sports City in Isa Town, Bahrain, represents "the small Island kingdom's attempt to become a significant player in the world of mixed martial arts." However, it also represents an attempt at sports diplomacy to distract international stakeholders from ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Zidan stated "when Bahrain hosts its next mixed martial arts event or Formula 1 race, remember its knack for oppression and the great lengths it has gone to, to protect the interests of the regime."

"Over the past few months, Prince Khaled has been seen supporting his team, providing ice buckets for his teammates, and even competing in an amateur bout himself. However, despite his seemingly positive vision for the sport, questions have been raised about Bahrain's shocking human rights violations and how the nation's politics intersects with their growing interest in sports. Evidently, Bahrain has continued to use the cultural effects of sports for domestic policy and international relations. It has also arguably used sports as a tool to distract from the last five years of tension and turmoil," he added.

The writer further stated "Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Khalifa's vision of martial arts garnered attention from the western world. However, it also offered a distraction from the ongoing tension and human rights abuses visible in the seemingly fragmented Kingdom of Bahrain. Successful sporting events can only enhance international relations, when the need to disguise their true nature is limited."

He highlighted that "Prince Nasser is also heavily immersed in sports," mentioning his most recent venture was launching the Bahrain Cycling Team. Yet despite his attempt to increase Bahrain's state prestige through success in sports, various allegations against Prince Nasser have arisen following the Arab Spring uprising in 2011."

"While Prince Nasser was able to disappear from the public eye following the Olympics, the announcement of the Bahrain Cycling Team, which was given a budget of between £11.5m and £13.7m, rekindled past grievances and rehashed his unsavory past," he continued. The Bahrain Institute for Human Rights and Democracy (Bird) claimed that this was merely an attempt for the Prince to "whitewash" his past.

Brian Cookson, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), also reminded readers about how Sheikh Nasser abused his position as the president of several sports institutions to quash athletes who attempted to participate in the popular uprising.

"Prince Nasser was at the head of systemic punitive measures against athletes. In all, some 120 athletes and club personnel were suspended across the sports of football, basketball, handball, volleyball, bodybuilding and snooker, including 27 members of national sports teams. At least 22 were arbitrarily arrested between April and June 2011, with some alleging that they were tortured," Cookson noted.

Zidan continued "While Nasser's participation in sports will likely continue, his trajectory is a reminder of how governments control sports and manipulate athletes for political gain and social influence. His influence over sports helped limit the impact of local athletes on the 2011 uprising," adding "His younger brother, Sheikh Khaled, will now use sports to distract the international scene from Bahrain's ongoing struggles."

"Yet despite Bahrain's damaged reputation and polarized position on the international scene, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will make an official visit to the Middle Eastern nation. This surprising endorsement gives the impression that Bahrain's abuses are of little concern to the British monarchy. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that Bahrain's royalty continues to increase their visibility through sports," he further stated.

The writer noted "Much like any authoritarian regime, sports in Bahrain are not just used for entertainment purposes, but for political gain and as a mechanism to distort reality and present a fabricated image of peace and prosperity on the international scene. Bahrain has been at the forefront of this sports diplomacy tactic for several years. This includes their efforts with the Formula-1 race, the Olympic Games, and, most recently, the Bahrain Cycling Team."

"When Bahrain first hosted the Formula-1 event, it was in an attempt to transform its image from that of a relatively unknown island nation to a destination location for tourists and sports enthusiasts. It helped boost their economy and was later used to distract citizens from the popular uprising in 2011-12. Bahrain also went out of its way to offer passports to athletes from Jamaica and other locations in an attempt to boost their roster for the Olympic Games. Their interest in the acquisition of medals goes hand-in-hand with their need for state prestige," he said.

The Bahrain government has also used sports as a tool to hinder their population and quench protests. Sports events and teams were suspended during the 2011 uprising and were seen as a threat to the monarchy because it allowed groups to gather together and discuss ongoing concerns. Instead, athletes were frequently exhorted to become propaganda tools to defend the monarchy and their existence.

Arabic Version    


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