Sport being used to whitewash unsavoury regimes
When we turn to our sports pages, we expect to read about who is beating Britain at cricket, the latest in the long-running saga of the English football team or Andy Murray’s latest exploits on the tennis courts. We do not expect to read about human rights or to see quotes from organisations like Human Rights Watch or this one – Amnesty. They are to be found on the news pages surely.
But on Tuesday 18 July, the Guardian in the UK devoted nearly two whole pages in its sports section to the sponsorship by Bahrain of a range of sporting activities and sportsmen in an effort to create a more favourable image for itself.
And it needs to. The country has a quite appalling record of human rights abuses. These include torture, in particular beatings and the use of electric shocks. Freedom of assembly has been severely restricted and peaceful protests have been violently put down. Nabeel Rajaab – a human rights defender is in prison.
Alan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty said:
It seems pretty clear that the Bahraini authorities have stepped up efforts to associate the country with major sporting events as glitzy cover for an ever-worsening human rights crackdown. For the most part, Bahrain’s harnessing of the glamour and prestige of sport has helped deflect attention from the arrests of peaceful critics, reports of tortured detainees, unfair trials and death sentences.
But you would not know this from the sports pages where all is glamour and excitement. Pictured is the Olympic gold winner
Alistair Brownlee – featured in the Guardian article – promoting a Bahrain sponsored event. Other sports include F1 motor racing, football with FIFA siting its conference in the country and cycling. Spokesmen for the various organisations involved in laundering Bahrain’s image claim that they are not competent authorities to assess the human rights violations taking place there. There are also claims that the sporting activities will help overcome the problems. This might have a grain of truth if during coverage, human rights issued were raised by commentators. Of that there has been no sign.
Their promotional activities are not limited to sport as members of the UK’s Royal family have been pressed into service. Her majesty the Queen herself welcomed King Hamad to the Royal Windsor horse show and there are pictures of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew with various members of the Bahraini royal family.
We do not have to look far for reasons for this rolling out of the red carpet for members of this royal family as it is our old friend arms sales which are behind it. It led Theresa May to visit the country last year. As CAAT reports we are keen to foster arms sales there including Typhoon jets and we have established a naval base at Mina Salman. Defence clearly trumps human rights considerations.
At present, the sportsmen and women can collect their fees and promotional monies free in the knowledge that the majority of those reading of their sporting achievements probably do not concern themselves too much with goes on in the countries like Bahrain and how they treat their own citizens. And only rarely do the stories touch on these matters since sport seems to exist in a kind of box as far the rest of coverage is concerned. Sport, money and politics are now closely entwined. Sports stars enjoy huge acclaim and some have a large fan base. They have huge influence over the young who spend large sums on their merchandise. This is a big responsibility.
But is it too much to ask that sporting people should have a conscience and should be concerned that their names and images are being used to hide serious abuses taking place? Where a regime such as Bahrain is using sport to whitewash its reputation then sporting people should be aware of the role they are playing and the harm they are doing. Should they not be concerned that they are being used by these regimes?
An Amnesty post on this topic
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