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Football Extras: 'I'm an Aussie': refugee footballer Araibi

March 12, 2019 15:45 IST
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Hakeem Al Araibi

IMAGE: Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 after being accused of vandalism. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

A refugee footballer who fled Bahrain and was held in a Thai prison for months during a tense extradition stand-off between Australia and the Gulf state was granted Australian citizenship on Tuesday.

Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, left Bahrain in 2014 after he was accused of crimes committed during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, which he denied. He was granted refugee status in Australia but after an Interpol notice requesting his arrest was made by Bahrain, he was apprehended by Thai authorities in November when he flew to Bangkok for a honeymoon.

 

"I'm an Aussie now," he told reporters in Melbourne after a citizenship ceremony on the banks of the Yarra River that flows through the city.

"I'm very happy to be safe."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who lobbied for his release from detention in Thailand, met Araibi after the citizenship ceremony and handed him the Australian flag lapel pin from his jacket.

"I had a little badge I was going to give you today, but I'm going to give you mine," Morrison said.

"I think this is a tremendous day that we welcome you, absolutely, into the Australian family."

Hundreds of supporters cheered "Welcome home, Hakeem!" when he arrived at Melbourne's airport following his release from jail in Bangkok a month ago.

He was among more than 200 people from 44 countries who, having passed a citizenship exam, pledged loyalty to Australia and were granted citizenship at the ceremony, the Australian Associated Press reported.

Pascoe Vale, the semi-professional team he plays for in Melbourne, congratulated Araibi.

As FIFA eyes World Cup expansion, rights groups say workers at risk

FIFA's drive to expand World Cup 2022 and stage it beyond Qatar risks including host countries that do not meet the soccer governing body's own standards on rights and labour, campaign groups said on Tuesday.

FIFA will discuss expanding the tournament to 48 teams from 32 at a council meeting this week - a format it says will likely require it to stage matches in neighbouring Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait or Oman.

"There are clear human rights risks associated with adding new hosts for the 2022 World Cup," said Stephen Cockburn, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

"Not least the potential widespread exploitation of migrant workers providing construction and other services for the World Cup that could cast a major shadow over the world's biggest sporting event," he said.

Qatar has come under fire from rights groups in recent years that say its sponsorship system for workers restricts their ability to leave the country, change jobs, and collect owed wages, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.

Doha says it is committed to reform and has enacted measures such as introducing a minimum wage, ending a requirement for permits to exit the country for most workers, and setting up dispute panels to hear workers' grievances.

There was no immediate reaction from other Gulf Arab countries on Tuesday.

While some such as the United Arab Emirates have introduced labour reforms, such as guaranteed time off for domestic workers, rights groups say their sponsorship systems still often leave workers vulnerable by restricting freedom of movement.

In a letter to FIFA head Gianni Infantino, groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Congress said FIFA must ensure any additional hosts meet rights standards introduced by the soccer body in 2017 and make similar reform pledges.

A FIFA spokesperson said its commitment to human rights are "unequivocal" and written into the hosting requirements of all future tournaments.

The FIFA spokesperson said the feasibility study being presented on Friday confirmed that these standards would apply to any co-hosting country.

The prospects for expansion have been complicated by a Gulf dispute under which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed a political and economic boycott of Qatar in mid-2017 over allegations it supports terrorism, which Doha denies.

FIFA has courted Kuwait and Oman, which have remained neutral in the dispute, as alternative sites according to a New York Times report.

Manchester City to compensate victims of child sexual abuse

Manchester City have launched a compensation scheme for victims of historical child sexual abuse, the English Premier League champions said on Tuesday.

The scheme applies to victims of City's former youth coach, Barry Bennell, who was jailed in 2018 for 30 years on multiple counts of child sexual abuse.

The club added an independent investigation had also revealed "serious allegations of child sex abuse" against another former junior coach, John Broome, whose alleged victims will also be eligible for compensation under the scheme.

Broome, who worked with City from 1964-71, died in 2010.

City did not reveal financial details of the scheme, but British media, including the BBC, reported on Monday that the club were set to offer millions of pounds in compensation.

Victims of the most serious crimes will receive six-figure sums in damages while those abused will also receive a personal apology from a senior club official, the BBC reported.

"The club reiterates ... its heartfelt sympathy to all victims for the unimaginably traumatic experiences that they endured," City said in a statement on its official website.

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