The Cordoba Football Club: A New Tool of Sport Whitewash to Cover Human Rights Violations in Bahrain

13 May 2020 – Yesterday, the Spanish national newspaper El Mundo the second largest newspaper in the country published an article denouncing the latest Bahraini ruling family’s attempt to bolster their public image, following their purchase and control of the Cordoba Football Club. The club was acquired by the Bahraini Infinity Company last December, and it has been confirmed that the people in charge of the company is the Bahraini ruling family. Hussain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has confirmed that “The crown prince is the owner of the investment firm that bought the club” and that “The company’s financing comes directly from the government of Bahrain in a clear case of corruption in which public money is used for the benefit of the ruling family”.

 The two members of the Alkhalifa ruling family involved in this operation are crown prince Salmán bin Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa and Prince Naser Bin Hamad al Khalifa. Salman, the eldest son of the current King Hamad, is the Crown Prince, a deputy prime minister, and deputy commander of the Bahrain armed forces. He is considered to be the “financial brain” of these kinds of investments. On the other hand, Naser bin Hamad is the Commander of the Royal Guard and head of an elite unit that has participated in the bloody war in Yemen. He is behind the initiative to invest in sports clubs as a way to expand his business portfolio and booster his international image. Naser, in fact, is president of the Bahrain Olympic Committee and the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports, as well as owner of the Bahrain McLaren cycling club. Moreover, “He is the person who wants to use the equipment for his public relations and his image laundering. There are very strong torture accusations against Naser and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has already eliminated his diplomatic immunity in the past” said Husain Abdulla.

Naser is one of the primary figures within the Al Khalifa ruling family that spearheaded the coercive campaign to repress the 2011 pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Following the 2011 uprising that occurred in the heat of the Arab Spring, Naser publicly threatened to punish the athletes who participated in the protest movement. “To all those who call for the fall of the regime, a wall will fall on their heads. Anyone who is involved in this matter and their support networks will be punished. Be it an athlete, an activist or a politician. Today is the day of the trial. Bahrain is an island and there is no escape,”  he publicly said on television in April 2011.

This latest investment in Cordoba Football Club is only the latest attempt by the Bahraini ruling family to use sport to whitewash its consisted record of grave human rights violations and abuses of its citizens. From cycling to endurance teams to Formula One, the Bahraini government has shown a consistent pattern that extorts sports events and spectacles as a way to draw national and international scrutiny away from its abusive records.