Ala'a Hubail And The Sickening Persecution Of Bahrain's Sporting Heroes

Ala'a Hubail is a footballing great in Bahrain. Yet his involvement with anti-government democratic protests this year led to the arrest of him and his brother, who joined a host of other athletes in facing the wrath of the state.
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It was a hot, summer day in Jordan and I was watching the Asian Cup in China. The date was July 30, 2004 and I was watching Bahrain’s quarterfinal date with Uzbekistan. In that match, I witnessed the sudden rise of a player who used to work in a hospital and suddenly become a celebrity overnight. That player scored a memorable brace and secured a historic semifinal berth for a country not well-known for its football exploits. That player that lit up the competition and was one of its biggest stars was Ala’a Hubail.

I still vividly remember that match. Hubail ran his socks off that day, caused all sorts of problems to the Uzbek defence and not only did he score a brace, but he also cleared a shot off the line in extra time and scored the winning penalty in the shootout. He became the most-talked about person in all of Bahrain for his heroics, his name was chanted and sung all over the nation. He became a national idol and hero. Unfortunately, that was all to change.

Protests broke out on February 14 this year, when the majority group in the country, Shi’as, led a march to the Pearl Roundabout, demanding greater democracy, political rights and equality. It has since led to protests against the government, ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family, after the Pearl Roundabout Shootings three days later. This completed the split of a sadly divided nation into two halves, pro (Sunni) and anti (Shi’a) government with reports stating that around 34 people have been killed since the start of the demonstrations.

Ala’a, who comes from a Shi’a family, was reportedly arrested two weeks after the February march, along with his brother Mohammed Hubail, who was also part of the national side in the Asian Cup. Press reports are stating that his brother has been sentenced to 2 years in prison, while Ala’a, a trained paramedic, faces trial behind closed doors for his role in treating injured protesters.

Ala’a Hubail, that idol, role model and superstar is being shamed, disgraced, and banned by the Bahraini government and for what? For helping out the wounded during the protests and participating in anti-government demonstrations. Since when does helping someone out, someone who’s injured and needs treatment, and voicing your opinion, warrant an arrest and ban from playing football? Hubail, who served his country well for almost a decade (scored 24 goals in 68 international appearances) is now being vilified and labelled a “criminal and traitor” by the same people who supported him for so many years.

This is a humiliating and degrading way of ending the career of one of the nation’s greatest players who has provided the nation’s best sporting moments in their history. He doesn’t deserve this humiliation by the government.

The decision to ban, arrest and tarnish him is absolutely shameful for a player as highly regarded as Ala’a Hubail. This is a humiliating and degrading way of ending the career of one of the nation’s greatest players, the player who has provided the nation’s best sporting moments in their history. He doesn’t deserve this treatment, this humiliation by the government. Yes, he probably protested against them, but is there a law against speaking your mind and displaying what you believe is right. It isn’t a crime to protest, it isn’t a crime to speak up and state your opinion.

This is what he said about his arrest: "I served my country with love and will continue as much as I can," Alaa Hubail said at his home in Sitra. "But I won't forget the experience which I went through, for all my life. What happened to me was a cost of fame. Participating in the athletes' rally was not a crime."

Update: Ala’a is reported to have signed for an unnamed Omani club, while Mohammed has been released from prison, after pressure from FIFA, and is looking for a club.

The Hubail brothers are not the only athletes facing trials or have been arrested. Reports that there are over 200 Bahraini athletes under custody or being interrogated by the government, and some like Ala’a, are facing trials behind closed doors.

Other high-profile names include:

Tariq Al-Farsani- A bodybuilding champion who won a gold medal in the 2002 Asian Games in the light-heavyweight division, as well as a silver medal in the World Bodybuilding Championships in 2008.

Ali Saeed- Former Bahrain National Team Keeper, who was also part of the squad in the 2004 Asian Cup. Saeed made 33 appearances with the national side.

Jaffar Abdulqader- Widely regarded as the best handball player in Bahrain, who helped them reach the 2011 World Cup in handball for the first time in its history.

Sayed Mohammed Adnan-Former Bahraini National Team defender, who was nominated for Best Player in Asia in 2009 and has made 79 appearances with the national side. He has now left Bahrain to Australia and plays for Brisbane Roar.

Authors note: My thoughts and prayers go out to the arrested and persecuted athletes, and also to the victims who have fallen during the protests and still are to this day. I wish to see these athletes and sporting figures back playing the sports that they love and for peace to return to my beloved Bahrain.  I will always remember Ala’a for the great moments and matches he gave for Bahrain, he served his nation admirably and we should never forget that. The same goes to the people of Bahrain, to my friends and family living there…. stay safe.

A short tribute to Ala’a Hubail

If you want to read more on this subject, check out these sources:

Bahraini Athletes Pay Steep Price

Bahrain detains former bodybuilding champion

Sportsman feel heat from bahrain regime

Teenage activist killed in Bahrain protest

If you want updates on Bahraini affairs, follow Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center For Human Rights on Twitter: @NABEELRAJAB

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