Bahrain players detained, clubs shut

Three players from Bahrain’s national football team have been
detained and six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues
following widespread, anti-government protests, the Bahrain
Football Association said Monday.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy group Youth of Feb. 14 Revolution
has launched a Facebook campaign calling on Formula One boss Bernie
Ecclestone not to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix ”until basic
human rights and freedoms are restored.” Bahrain has until May 1
to decide if it wants to reschedule the race which was canceled
March 13 due to the unrest.

The moves are the latest illustration of the effects on sport of
the anti-government protests that began Feb. 14 and have left 30
people dead.

The action against the footballers is part of a widespread
government crackdown on dissent following protests that have
resulted in journalists, bloggers, doctors, lawyers and activists
being detained. More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees also
have been suspended since April 5 for their alleged involvement in
protests against the country’s Sunni rulers.

Sheik Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, the vice president of the
Bahrain FA, acknowledged the three players have been detained but
could provide no further information. He said the clubs – two in
the top division and four in the second – have withdrawn from the
league which resumed two weeks ago due to ”pressure from Shiite
political groups.”

Al Khalifa said all could be fined for their refusal to play as
well as other sanctions including relegation.

”Some of the clubs during the problems refrained from
participating,” Al Khalifa said. ”We haven’t suspended anyone.
They are just not participating. There is a fine and punishment of
course.”

However, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights says the
clubs from mostly Shiite villages were suspended last week from the
league for two years and fined $20,000. Along with football teams,
the clubs sponsor a range of sports in their communities.

Mohammed al-Maskati, the group’s president, said clubs had
stopped playing during the protests partly because they felt it was
too dangerous and also as an act of demonstration over the deaths
of protesters.

But he said that when the clubs announced they were ready to
resume playing, the authorities slapped the suspension and fines on
them.

”They could not work normally when protesters are killed in
their villages,” Al-Maskati said.

”The authorities want to tell them that you are supporting the
protests and this is the punishment. It’s not fair,” he said.
”Just because you are a sportsman doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be
political. Everyone in the world has ideas about something.
Everyone has the right to get involved.”