Human rights groups appeal to UCI over Bahrain Cycling Team

Questions raised over Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa's human rights record; letter sent to UCI requesting that Bahrain team's WorldTour application is rejected

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) have sent a joint letter to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) requesting that the Bahrain Cycling Team‘s application for a place on the WorldTour is rejected.

BIRD and ECCHR have questioned the human rights record of the Bahrain team’s owner, Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and say that his involvement as the head of a cycling team would violate the UCI’s code of ethics and would “stain cycling as a whole by association”.

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Prince Nasser confirmed last week that he plans to create a WorldTour cycling team, and is reportedly interested in signing Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali from the Astana team to head up the squad.

Prince Nasser

Prince Nasser posted this message on Instagram last week announcing the team

In their letter to UCI president Brian Cookson sent on June 6, BIRD and ECCHR write “in April 2011, in the midst of a violent government crackdown against peaceful anti-government protestors, Prince Nasser formed an investigate committee whose role was to identify and sanction athletes who took part in these demonstrations.

“Athletes have made credible allegations that they were subjected to torture in 2011 around this time. Although there is no suggestion that Nasser was personally involved in the torture of athletes, three Bahrainis have alleged that Prince Nasser personally subjected them to torture between April and May 2011.

“In October 2014, the UK’s High Court confirmed that the Prince had no diplomatic immunity in Britain in relation to the allegations of torture.”

>>> Inside story on Bahrain’s new WorldTour team: Vincenzo Nibali to head roster

BIRD and ECCHR request that the UCI investigates the concerns raised over Prince Nasser’s human rights record.

“Prince Nasser remains in his positions as President of the Bahrain Olympic Committee and President of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport and with the Bahrain government, which continues to commit human rights violations including systematic torture,” the letter said.

“The allegations of torture also raise serious concerns over the ethical and moral character of Prince Nasser. If the allegations are true, then Prince Nasser has committed a grave crime which will stain Cycling as a whole by association.

“As President of the Ethics Commission, you are responsible for safeguarding principles of the CoE [Code of Ethics] and the integrity and reputation of Cycling. We believe that the involvement of Prince Nasser in the sport will be in violation of the jurisprudence and principles of the CoE.

“As such we ask the Commission to commence an appropriate investigation of this matter before considering the grant of a licence to Prince Nasser, that will include liaison with appropriate stakeholders and that Prince Nasser be refused a licence for his team at the UCI and financial contributions from him be refused.”

WorldTour team (WorldTeam) licence applications are considered by the UCI Licence Commission. All applicants must meet a set of criteria in order to have a licence issued: sporting, ethical, financial and administrative.

Cycling Weekly has contacted the UCI for its response.