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detained and six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues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withdrawn from the league, which resumed two weeks ago because of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.