Football Club Takeover by Bahraini Royal Family: Warned a ‘whitewash’ by Spanish MP Adelante

On the 26 June 2020, Spanish political party Adelante released a public statement concerning the Bahraini Royal Family purchase of Spanish football club, Córdoba FC. Luzmarina Dorado, Member of Parliament for Adelante Andalucía for Córdoba, warned that the Bahraini Royal Family intends to use the purchase as a means to strengthen its public image so as to distract international scrutiny away from its human rights violations.

In the statement, due regard is paid to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and ADHRB’s condemnation of the Bahraini ruling family’s atrocities. This includes the denunciations of the  ‘repression and arbitrary persecution that has been carried out in Bahrain against activists, peaceful opponents of the regime and human rights defenders for having exercised their freedom of expression, condemned torture or participated in anti-government protests since the Arab Spring and the pro-democracy protests of 2011.’

Dorado highlighted the involvement of the two Bahraini princes in the acquisition of the Còrdoba FC. “the Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who controls Infinity and is considered the ‘financial mastermind’ of the operation, and his younger brother, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa”. In the statement, the Spanish MP stressed the serious accusations against Nasser of having persecuted, publicly threatened and personally tortured athletes who opposed the regime. The events she refers to follow the repression of the 2011 pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. In fact, in 2011, Nasser publicly stated on television that “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 an athlete, an activist or a politician. Bahrain is an island and there is no escape”.

In the statement Dorado stressed the importance for the people of Còrdoba to know who the people behind their football club are, and that sport has deep roots within the city. She further highlighted the fact that it would not be the first time that the ruling Al-Khalifa royal family have used sport as a tool to ‘project an image of westernisation’ to appease western critics of their appalling human rights record. 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.

Dorado addressed the Andalusian government that it cannot watch in silence to what is happening within its territory, particularly when such an instance is at the expense of whitewashing political regimes that systematically abuse people’s fundamental rights. Allowing the Al-Khalifa family to do business and ‘whitewash’ its reputation in turn undermines the Andalusian government’s commitment to free and fair democractic principles. In closing, Dorado celebrated the release of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and maintained:

“We cannot allow the city of Cordoba and the football team that bears its name to be in the hands of people who intend to use them to launder a regime that violates human rights”.