Sayed Mohamed Adnan: From Football Star to Refugee
By: Ali Alahrani
Published Thursday, October 13, 2011
Last month, Mohamed Adnan watched on his television set as Bahrain beat Indonesia 2-0 in the second round of Asia’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Adnan (28) was one of Bahrain’s star football players until his political activism suddenly ended his career.
He had played a total of 79 games in which he scored 13 goals for the Bahraini national team, and in 2009 he was nominated as Asian Footballer of the Year. But Adnan was banned from the team after accusations that he organized an athletes march last February calling for national unity and change in Bahrain’s political establishment.
In May, Adnan traveled to Brisbane, Australia to visit his relatives and decided to stay there after his family advised him not to return to Bahrain. “I’m not afraid of arrest. My son and my wife are happy … I feel safer in Australia,” Adnan said in a telephone interview.
But he still worries about his relatives in Bahrain. His father was detained and interrogated about Adnan’s whereabouts, while his brother escaped to Qatar for a few months before returning to Bahrain. “I’m lucky. If I had been in Bahrain at that time, I could have also been detained,” Adnan admits, adding that he was ready to turn himself in.
Inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrainis took to the streets on February 14 against the Al Khalifa family, which has ruled the country since 1783. In the clashes that followed, security forces killed around 41 protesters and injured thousands.
Several national team players who participated in the protests, like top scorer Alaa Hubail, were released from detention four weeks ago following pressure from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). Other athletes and sports journalists soon followed but are still awaiting trial.
“My colleagues were tortured to say that I organized the march just like what happened with Ali Saeed,” Adnan says, referring to the national team’s goalkeeper who was forced into a public confession. “A high-level officer sent me a message by way of the released detainees to return to Bahrain. He said that I could return and they would not touch me,” he adds. But Adnan does not trust the authorities in Bahrain. “If they have nothing to do with me, then why were my colleagues tortured and why were the authorities asking them about me?"
Adnan was playing for Al Khor, a Qatari team, when his contract was suddenly terminated. “The team coach told me that they were depending on me to win the Qatari cup, but everything changed after the athletes protest march,” he says. “They still owe me US$180,000 for the rest of my contract and my agent is trying to get my money."
The good news is that when the Australian A-League begins in October, Adnan will be able to play again. He signed a season contract last month with the Brisbane Roar. He says, “I’m happy to play again. I hope I can help my team win the league.”
The government’s crackdown has damaged Bahrain's football reputation. Adnan believes that football in Bahrain will need years to recover after what has happened. Other sports have also been affected. The 2011 Formula One Grand Prix event in Bahrain was cancelled in April when teams and drivers refused to come to the country in protest of the regime.
Mark Webber, an Australian driver for Red Bull, recently tweeted his disapproval with Formula One’s soft stance. “In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in the hope of being able to reschedule it in 2011. It would have sent a very clear message about F1’s position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues.”
Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, said in an official statement on May 26 that “racing officials should seriously consider the appropriateness of holding a Formula One event this year in Bahrain in light of the scale of human rights violations there.” Meanwhile, Formula One organizers announced that the 2012 Grand Prix has been rescheduled for April of that year.