FFA arranges training camp for Olyroos in Bangkok and cancels three days after telling clubs - UPDATED!
What was FFA thinking, arranging a training camp for the Olyroos in Bangkok?06 February 2019 | Bonita Mersiades
Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse for Football Federation Australia (FFA) - they did.
On Sunday 3 February, a circular was sent to A-League clubs informing them of arrangements for the final preparation for the first stage of men's qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, to be held in Cambodia in March.
It is terrific to see that the Under 23s (Olyroos) will have a training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra towards the end of February.
It is not so terrific to see that they depart for a training camp in Bangkok on 11 March.
Yes, Bangkok, Thailand.
The country that is unlawfully detaining Hakeem Al-Araibi, a player in the NPL Victoria competition with Pascoe Vale FC; a former national team player of Bahrain given refugee status by Australia; the player around whom an entire campaign to attempt to save him has been a collaborative effort by the likes of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and, locally, the PFA via Craig Foster and FIFPro via Francis Awaritefe. The player whom we have written about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
So what does FFA do?
It plans to hold a “pre-tournament camp” in Bangkok for the Olyroos for at least a week before heading to Cambodia for the tournament. (The Olyroos must finish top of the group or in the four best second placed teams in order to progress to the next stage of qualification).
A pre-tournament training camp in Thailand wouldn't happen without the agreement of the Thai FA, so the question needs to be asked: why would FFA be dealing with the Thailand FA at a time when they are doing nothing to support Hakeem Al-Araibi's return to Australia, and at a time when FIFPro and others are calling for sanctions against both the Bahrain and Thailand FAs? The Thai FA are even reported to have issued bans on clubs whose players choose to exercise an inalienable right to free speech by showing their support for #SaveHakeem.
Perhaps this is some sort of clever move to curry favour with the Thai FA, but - hazarding a guess here - that is doubtful.
It undermines the efforts of Foster and Awaritefe, the PFA and the rest of the international group fighting for Al-Araibi's return to Australia, as well as the Australian Government at a time when the Prime Minister was moved to write a second letter to his Thai counterpart after seeing Al-Araibi in shackles on Monday.
Only yesterday FFA announced a $10,000 “kick-starter” gift to the PFA's fundraising efforts for Al-Araibi: is this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, or is it a 'softener' to ensure the PFA doesn't object to the Thailand training camp? And where does this leave the players, all of whom were photographed at A-League (and W-League) matches on the weekend with their #SaveHakeem banners? An empty gesture because in light of the FFA's decision to spend a week in Thailand.
Some of us, including me, railed against Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby club for celebrating its sponsorship last night with Thai Airways when a fellow professional sportsperson is unlawfully detained in a Thailand jail.
But this is OUR governing body. It is an appalling and insensitive act which presumably says more about the FFA's wish to be represented on the AFC executive committee come election time on 6 April, than it does about the right thing to do - for one player, for football, and for Australia.
Do the right thing, FFA. Cancel this training camp in Thailand NOW; move it to Darwin or Singapore or Vietnam or anywhere else in south-east Asia unless and until Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to get on a Qantas flight home to Melbourne.
We were delighted to receive a media release from FFA more than three hours after publication of our story advising that they had cancelled the proposed trip to Thailand. This is the right thing to do.
FFA advised in their statement that “preliminary plans” for the Bangkok training camp had been put in place last year, but they “reassessed” their plans on return from the Asian Cup in light of Hakeem Al-Araibi's detention.
Australia's campaign at the Asian Cup ended on 25 January. The Final was held on 1 February. The memo from a senior executive of FFA advising of the trip to Bangkok is dated 3 February. It appears that someone must have forgotten to inform the memo writer.
We look forward to hearing where the Olyroos camp will now be held for their all-important qualifying campaign.
ffa, ffa board, ffa governance, hakeem al-araibi, craig foster, francis awaritefe, olyroos