DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Three players from Bahrain's national soccer team have been detained and six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues following widespread anti-government protests, the country's governing soccer body said Monday.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 He said the clubs — two in the top division and four in the second — have withdrawn from the league, which resumed two weeks ago because of "pressure from Shiite political groups."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.