Bahrain soccer players detained, clubs shut

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detained and six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues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

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

The turmoil surrounding soccer and Formula One are the latest
illustrations of just how badly sports in the Gulf nation have been
hit since the protests began Feb. 14 and left 30 people dead.

The moves against the soccer players are part of a 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 Football Association, 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withdrawn from the league, which resumed two weeks ago because of
”pressure from Shiite political groups.”

Al Khalifa said all could be fined for refusing to play and
possibly face other sanctions, including relegation to a lower
division.

”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.”

A human right group, however, says the clubs from mostly Shiite
villages were suspended last week from the league for two years and
fined $20,000. Along with soccer teams, the clubs sponsor a range
of sports in their communities.

Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for
Human Rights, said clubs had stopped playing during the protests
partly because they felt it was too dangerous and also to
acknowledge the deaths of protesters.

But he said that when the clubs announced they were ready to
resume playing, the authorities imposed suspensions and fines.

”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 added.
”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.”

Officials from three of the clubs – Al Malkiya, Al Ittihad and
Sitra – confirmed the six had been fined for refusing to
participate in the league and that the top two clubs, Al Malkiya
and Al Shabab, were relegated and drew additional fines for
refusing to take part in the GCC Club Championship.