KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The Asian Football Confederation appears to have been aware of its difficulties over the case of Hakeem Al-Araibi for much longer than the current crisis concerning the former Bahrain international.
Al-Araibi is being held in prison in Thailand despite holding formal refugee status in Australia pending an extradition application from the Bahrain authorities. He fears torture and imprisonment back in the Gulf state which he fled six years ago after the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
He has claimed that he had been among victims of a process involving Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the governing royal family who is now president of the AFC and a vice-president of world governing body FIFA. Sheikh Salman has always denied these and other similar allegations.
However the AFC has taken a far lower profile than the Australian government, its football bodies and FIFA in demanding that Al-Araibi be released by Thailand which he had been visiting on permitted holiday at the time of his detention last December.
His choice of holiday venue was unfortunate since Thailand is not a signatory to standard refugee respect treaties.
The issue flared at the current Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates when an AFC media officer blocked an attempt to an Australian journalist to ask team representatives about their awareness of the Al-Araibi issue at a press conference.
Now the AFC has issued a statement insisting that it is working to resolve the Al-Araibi issue while saying, in that context, that it has been concerned about conflict of interest issues for Sheikh Salman since mid-2017.
The statement is likely only to prompt more questions.
The AFC said:
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) continues to work with FIFA, the global governing body, on the matter of the detention of Hakeem Al Araibi in Thailand to find a solution.
Mr Patel was asked 18 months ago by the AFC Executive Committee to handle matters involving the AFC’s West Zone to ensure there were no accusations of a conflict of interest involving AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.