MANAMA: The complexities of the increasingly tense relationship between international sport and the Bahrain authorities continue to deepen.
As Formula One heads back to the Gulf state amid further human rights concerns so the issue has cut across the pursuit of Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said he sees “no reason” why this weekend’s event should not go ahead even though protests to coincide with the race began on Friday, organised by the opposition to the ruling royal family.
Ecclestone said: “There’s no reason why [the race] shouldn’t be [a success]. They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that . . I’m happy to talk to anybody about this, as I did before.”
The opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks in February for the first time since 2011, when protests were crushed and at least 35 people died, but little progress has been reported.
Reuters has reported that protesters see an opportunity to use the race to highlight ongoing injustices.
The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix was postponed and later cancelled after month-long pro-democracy protests were crushed.
As for the football connection Sheikh Salman, a member of the ruling family, has sought to distance himself from allegations that local footballers were detained and tortured during the anti-government protests.
In answer to a question from Associated Press, Sheik Salman said: “Have they been treated ill because of their football reasons? We have to focus on what is the responsibility of the FA.” He said the federation was responsible only for football matters – “political motivation, this is something different.”
Sheikh Salman’s rivals for the AFC presidency in the election congress on May 2 in Kuala Lumpur are Yousuf Al Serkal (UAE), Hafez Al-Medlej (Saudi Arabia) and Worawi Makudi (Thailand).
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