A panel including Craig Foster and Hakeem Al-Araibi convened in Melbourne on Tuesday night to discuss the role of football in upholding human rights in the wake of the #SaveHakeem campaign.

Also on the panel were Pascoe Vale Football Club President Lou Tona and Chairman of Professional Footballer’s Australia John Didulica.

Hakeem was arrested in Thailand in December 2018 and finally released back to Australia in February 2019, with the very real situation of a person’s life at stake.

“If Hakeem had been re-filed to Bahrain, would we ever have heard of Hakeem again? The answer in my head is no,” Tona said.

“We had sport to reach out to, and sport came through on the day.”

Didulica added “the weight of someone’s life was resting on our shoulders” with each passing day during the case.

Al-Araibi himself admitted to relishing a “new life” having been granted Australian citizenship in Canberra last month, fully recognising the place in which he can now say “this is home.”

The Bahraini-born footballer was able to communicate with his wife only via email for over 70 days while he was in prison, where he would be shackled at the ankles, ultimately all for speaking out against Sheikh Salman; current AFC President.

“Why are you shackling my legs, I am not an animal,” Al-Araibi said.

Foster, a former Socceroos captain and SBS football analyst, believed it to be his duty and responsibility as a former player to stand up and to help return Hakeem to the country.

“If our game doesn’t step up, we should be held accountable for that,” Foster said.

Foster has been involved in the coverage of the World Cup with SBS since Germany 2006, but the next tournament, to be held in Qatar in 2022, is throwing up some issues.

Aside from corruption claims, poor working conditions for those building stadia and other infrastructure to host the tournament has claimed the lives of hundreds of workers already.

Having worked tireless for human rights over the last few months, Foster admitted that decisions will have to be made with regards to his participation at the Qatar World Cup.

“It’s a very difficult moral challenge,” Foster said.

Foster also used the example of the 2018 tournament in Russia, an opportunity which he utilised to talk openly about human rights abuses on air, something that he admitted many viewers found confronting.

“However, being a government broadcaster, we have a responsibility and the opportunity to talk about that,” Foster said.

“I will have to make the decision – when it comes to Qatar – personally, as to whether I think there is value in doing so or indeed the moral challenge is such that I shouldn’t go.

“The value and attraction of hosting one of these tournaments is so vast, that we can actually say there comes with this a responsibility to treat these people in a different manner.”

In future, Foster is hopeful that should another serious situation arise, that the learnings this time around will help ensure that it need not take drastic measures again, and that the likes of FIFA President Gianni Infantino “don’t need us.”

“We need to make sure the next Hakeem doesn’t need us,” Foster said.

Nick Hughes