From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Bahrain national football team is the national team of the Kingdom of Bahrain and is controlled by the Bahrain Football Association; it was founded in 1951 and joined FIFA in 1966. They have never reached the finals of the World Cup, but have twice come within one match of doing so. Bahrain won the FIFA’s most improved team award in 2004, and finished fourth in the 2004 Asian Cup, beating Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals but losing to Japan in the semi-finals 4–3. Bahrain then lost to Iran
in the third-place match, thus finishing in fourth place overall. The detention without trial of Shia members of the current team in the wake of the 2011 pro-democracy reform protests has had political as well as sporting repercussions.
2006 World Cup
After Uzbekistan and Bahrain both finished third in their respective groups during the World Cup 2006 qualifiers, Bahrain entered a two-legged playoff with Uzbekistan, which they won on away goals with an aggregate score of 1–1. This allowed Bahrain to enter another two-legged playoff with the fourth-placed CONCACAF nation, (Trinidad and Tobago), for a spot in the World Cup. But a 0–1 Bahrain loss in Manama after a 1–1 draw in Port of Spain saw the CONCACAF nation go through.
2007 Asian Cup
Bahrain played in group D in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualification group games. Bahrain fielded a side which was essentially the Olympic (under 23) team against Australia, and they lost 2–0. Bahrain qualified for the Asian Cup 2007 after defeating Kuwait in their last match. Bahrain were knocked out in the group stages via two losses against Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, despite a win against Korea Republic.
2010 World Cup
In the third round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Bahrain were drawn into group B along with Japan, Oman, and Thailand. They finished second overall to qualify to the final round, in which Bahrain finished third overall in their group, below Australia and Japan, but above Uzbekistan and Qatar. In the second leg of the playoff against Saudi Arabia to decide Asia’s fifth best team, Bahrain drew 2–2 with Saudi Arabia after scoring in stoppage time which allowed them go through on away goals, after drawing their home leg 0–0. They went on to play New Zealand in the final playoff in which the victor would qualify for the World Cup, but after a goalless draw in Manama on 10 October 2009, Bahrain lost the return leg 1–0 in Wellington, missing out on qualification at the last hurdle for the second time running.
Player suspensions during the Bahrain 2011 Arab Spring protests
On 5 April 2011 A’ala Hubail and his brother Mohamed Hubail, both members of the national football team, were arrested by the Bahraini authorities in connection with their participation in the 2011 Bahraini protests. A’ala Hubail, Golden Boot winning member of Bahrain’s 2004 Asian Cup team and a trained paramedic, had attended demonstrations where he had reportedly helped provide medical assistance. Mohamed Hubail had taken part in a march. The day before his arrest Ala’a Hubail had appeared on a chat-show programme on Bahrain state television in which he had been aggressively questioned and criticised and sports stars taking part in the protests had been denounced as “stray hyenas”. The Hubails’ club, Al-Ahli, announced that the brothers had been dismissed from the club squad. Another member of the national team Sayed Mohamed Adnan was also arrested and a fourth Shia member of the team Abbas Ayaad was among 150 other athletes, including nationally known basketball, volleyball, and handball players, suspended from local clubs as part of an effort to suppress anti-government dissent. As of mid-June 2011 the Hubail brothers and Mohamed Adnan were still being held without trial.
The Bahrain Football Association described the players’ suspensions as “falling under misconduct, and the breaching of the rules and regulations of sporting clubs . . . not to engage in any political affairs”.
The players’ effective ban from the national team has raised controversy concerning the failure by FIFA, football’s international governing body, to apply its strict rules banning political interference in the running of football impartially.
According to Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa al Khalifa, the Bahraini Football Association vice president and a member of the ruling family targeted by pro-democracy protests, FIFA’s rules on political interference do not apply to the Bahraini situation because the players concerned had “opposed the general laws and bylaws of the country”. A show of tolerance towards the footballers would “result in the disintegrating of the equality under the law spirit”[sic], contrary to everything that Bahrain’s “revered government” stood for.
On the other hand Keir Radnedge, former editor of World Soccer and expert commentator, pointing to discrepancies in FIFA’s treatment of governments who have attempted to interfere politically in football, reflected that neither prospective candidate in the imminent FIFA Presidential election was thought likely to wish to upset the al-Khalifas with their extensive sporting influence in the region. Human rights activists have suggested that FIFA’s silence is liable to be interpreted by the Bahraini FA as a signal of approval to tolerate violence against football players.
The Bahrain football squad of which the Hubails and Adnan were members, described as the most talented group of footballers since Bahrain achieved independence, were referred to by their former coach Milan Macala ahead of the 2009 World Cup playoff against New Zealand as a symbol of unity, with no religious differences. As a result of the unprotested jailing of Shia members, the national team is no longer seen as a symbol of unity.