No rest for SBS's Craig Foster in fight for release of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi


Former Socceroo Craig Foster says there is a growing sense of urgency in the campaign to secure the release of detained footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi.

Matt Connellan reports from Bangkok.

He might have spent the best part of a week lobbying governments and human rights groups, but Craig Foster still isn’t satisfied.

The former Socceroo and SBS Chief Football Analyst has worked tirelessly to try and make inroads to secure the release of Hakeem Al-Araibi from detention in Bangkok.

Marise Payne says 'extensive efforts' under way for return of Hakeem Al-Araibi
Marise Payne says 'extensive efforts' under way for return of Hakeem Al-Araibi

But he knows the clock is ticking.

“It’s been a really critical week for two reasons,” Mr Foster said.

“One is to meet Hakeem and get a personal sense of him, and a connection, and understand the emotional state he’s in, which just drives the motivation for all of us to try and save him.

“The second point is to work out the real dynamics of the case, and it’s clear they go to the very highest level of world sport.”

And while progress has been made on the diplomatic front, Hakeem’s 59 day spell in detention doesn’t appear likely to end soon.

Hakeem Al-Araibi says he is losing hope as SBS's Craig Foster visits him in Thai prison
Hakeem Al-Araibi says he is losing hope as SBS's Craig Foster visits him in Thai prison

The deadline for Bahrain to officially lodge an extradition application is just over two weeks away.

It is a critical fortnight in the fight for Hakeem’s future - if he has to go through the formal extradition process as he could be stuck in Bangkok for up to a year.

“The trip has confirmed that sport cannot sit on the sidelines,” Mr Foster said.

“Sport is staying out of the battle that Hakeem is in, because of politics, money and influence.

“And, much of the Middle East has been financing a tremendous amount of football and global sports.

“This is pay back time now, and FIFA has to step up because the soul of football is on the line here.”

Mr Foster has been extremely critical of FIFA’s apparent lack of activity in Hakeem’s case.

And he believes that lobbying the world governing body directly is the next step.

“I’m going to write imminently to FIFA and Gianni Infantino, and articulate not just the facts, but the dynamics,” Mr Foster said.

“The dynamics are more important. The facts are he should be in Australia, the facts are he’s a refugee, the facts are he has protection, and the facts are he is a currently registered football player that FIFA are obligated to protect.

“But the dynamics are much more complex, and go to the very highest level to the royal family of Bahrain.

“What value is FIFA going to place on the life of Hakeem Al-Araibi? Are they going to say that the humanitarian values of football are more important than money, more important than elections, are more important than influence, politics and power?

“Because the football world thinks so. If Hakeem’s life is worth less than an election, worth less than his internationally recognised human rights being upheld by FIFA, then the soul of football is dead.”

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