Bahraini held in Thailand a ‘test’ for FIFA: Ex-Aussie captain

BANGKOK (AFP) – Former Australia football captain Craig Foster said yesterday a Bahraini refugee player held in Thailand is a ‘test’ for FIFA, as rights groups try to duplicate the asylum success story of a Saudi woman who avoided deportation from the country.

Foster is in Bangkok helping with the fight to free Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing an Arab Spring crackdown but was detained trying to holiday in Thailand in late November.

His case was brought into the spotlight afterwards when a young Saudi woman named Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun avoided the same fate by barricading herself in a hotel room and tweeting pleas for help earlier this month, securing asylum in Canada in one week.

Alaraibi, who played for Bahrain’s national side, is accusing of taking part in riots that damaged a police station but he says he was playing in a match at the time.

Rights groups said he faces a 10-year prison sentence if he is sent back.

He believes he is being targetted for vocally criticising and opposing the FIFA presidential candidacy of Senior Vice-President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

FIFA’s Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote an open letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday asking for Alaraibi to be allowed to go home. But Foster told reporters in Bangkok that it is “not enough” and that FIFA could consider sports sanctions against football federations in Thailand and Bahrain.

“This is actually a seminal case to test the efficacy of the new human rights policy that FIFA has implemented,” Foster said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok.

He visited Alaraibi in Bangkok Remand Prison this week and said the footballer was in a “very low state psychologically”.

Former Australian soccer national team member Craig Foster talks to journalists at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand after meeting detained refugee Hakeem al-Araibi in Bangkok, Thailand yesterday. – AP