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How has civil war impacted Bahrain’s sport?

The uprising peaked early in its life, as the Pearl Roundabout played host to Bahrain’s ‘Bloody Thursday’, where a combined 1,500 troops quashed 1,000-3,000 protestors, who were sleeping in their tents.

There were four fatalities, and 300 injuries.

The protestors (mainly Shia Muslim) were campaigning for democracy against the royal family (mainly Sunni Muslim) who run a unitary, monarchical government.

Despite ‘Bloody Thursday’ effectively ending the uprising, there were sporadic protests amongst the public up until 2014.

Ian Parkes, working as the Press Association’s F1 correspondent at the time, said:

“It was clear in the build up to the race that year [2012], there was tension in Bahrain.

“That became further evident as in the week leading up to the race my colleagues and I, who opted to venture out and get a sense of what was happening in the country, witnessed numerous clashes between protesters and police, with petrol bombs from the former combated by tear gas from the latter.

“The overwhelming police presence to and from the track during the grand prix weekend itself only added to the unease that dominated the event.”

F1 was not the only sport affected by the uprising, as footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi was subject to a worldwide sporting story, with his incarceration having global implications and putting Bahraini’s officials under intense scrutiny.

One official, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, ran for FIFA president in the 2016 election, following the Sepp Blatter corruption scandal.

Al-Khalifa allegedly advocated the torture of Al Araibi, as well as national football team captain A’Ala Hubail and his brother, Mohammed, directly contrasting his responsibilities to protect footballers as his role as President of the Bahrain Football Association, but has “categorically denied” any involvement.

Sheikh Salman Bin Al-Khalifa

Al-Araibi was alleged to have been involved in protests during the 2011 uprising however there was a major issue: Al Araibi was playing in a football match at the time the protest occurred.

Nevertheless, Al-Khalifa was very nearly successful in his campaign to be president of FIFA, as the Hubail brothers denounced their allegations and supported Al-Khalifa leading to 88 votes; however, the eventual winner Gianni Infantino registered 115 votes.

In 2009, the Bahraini national football team were on the brink of their first ever World Cup, entering a golden generation led by their superstar Sayed Adnan and had a prosperous footballing network.

As of 2019, Bahrain look to finally be recovering. They are currently 111th in the world, and they have enjoyed a renaissance as they got to the round of 16 in the Asian Federation Cup, their highest ever finish and only lost out in extra-time to Heung-Min Son’s South Korea.

The uprising, unequivocally damaged Bahrain is sporting, in turn political, standing. Despite this, it was not irrevocable, and Bahrain seems to be back on the rise, a potential gem along the Persian ocean.

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