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Hague warns of travel bans

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David Bond | 15:00 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

The Foreign Secretary William Hague says the government won't hesitate to use its powers to extend London 2012 travel bans to individuals and officials with connections to undesirable regimes.

While refusing to comment on specific cases, Hague made it clear in his first interview on the subject that Olympic officials like General Mowaffak Joumaa of Syria and Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain would be closely assessed before being granted entry to Britain to attend the Games this summer.

"The power exists to stop people coming to Britain if we think it's not conducive to the public good," he told me. "We won't hesitate to use that power."

General Joumaa, the president of the Syrian Olympic Committee, is reported to have close links to President Assad whose regime has been described by Hague as "criminal" for its brutal crackdown on government opponents.

Joe Montana, Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad al Khalifa and Paul Casey

Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad al Khalifa, pictured at a golf tournament in his home country last month, could be banned from attending the Olympics. Photo: Getty

Unlike President Assad he is not on the European Union or United Nations travel ban. He has openly denied there has been any violence in Syria despite a United Nations report which stated 9,000 people have been killed in the ongoing disturbances.

As head of the country's Olympic committee he would expect to be invited as part of the country's delegation although the International Olympic Committee says that while they allocate the invitations it is up to each country to nominate the individuals who actually go.

There are also concerns about the attendance of the head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa who has warned anti government campaigners in the Gulf state that they will face severe retribution. "May a wall fall on their heads," he was recently quoted as saying. "Even if they are an athlete."

Again unlike other more prominent international political figures like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Sheikh Khalifa is not on an EU or UN banned list, so the responsibility will fall to a committee made up of officials and ministers from the Foreign Office, Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to assess the risk and rule on
whether to issue a special travel ban.

It will require sensitive handling as the IOC doesn't welcome interference from politicians when it comes to inviting people who are part of the so-called Olympic family.

But the situation does highlight how international sport is entwined with international politics.

As sport is increasingly driven by the allure of new markets and commercial opportunities so the clashes between the two worlds seem to have increased.

The growing crisis in Ukraine is a timely example. British ministers are considering whether to join the calls for a boycott of Euro 2012 over the Ukrainian government's treatment of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko. She claims she has been beaten while in jail awaiting trial on charges she says are politically
motivated.

Despite basing themselves in Poland England play all their group games in Ukraine during next month's tournament. A spokesman for the FA said it was a matter for the Government and that they had no plans to get involved in international politics.

Last month we had Formula One's controversial decision to go ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix despite calls from anti government protesters to cancel the race for the second year running.

Although there was clear unease among the competing teams, ultimately
the sport put commercial interests first and insisted that unless there was a clear threat to the security of the event then it would go ahead.

In his interview with the BBC, Hague told me that ideally sport should be kept free of politics and that it so often provided an opportunity for the world to come together. But he added pointedly that sport needed to sensitive to the situations it often finds itself in.

And that's the big danger for sport. It can often seem disconnected from the real world, determined to plough on with events even though they can sometimes be used by regimes to lend them credibility on the international stage.

Take the Beijing Olympics. Has there ever been a better illustration of how mega sporting events and their vast global TV audiences can be used to send a message to the world?

The idea that sport can exist in a bubble free of political influence died years ago.

No one seriously thinks boycotts should become commonplace or that athletes should start using press conferences to espouse political views

But given the influence and commercial power sport now wields, perhaps sports needs to drive a harder bargain with undesirable regimes in return.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "Although there was clear unease among the competing teams, ultimately
    the sport put commercial interests first and insisted that unless there was a clear threat to the security of the event then it would go ahead."

    Correct me if I'm wrong but the race went ahead for sporting reasons. Yes the commercial interests of f1 played a part, as they should because without keeping the sponsors happy international sport will not prosper, but in the end the FIA decided to have a race, which went off relatively incident free, with the obvious exception, and was in my opinion the best sporting spectacle in f1 so far this season.

    And David I am truely sorry for bringing the issue of sport into your blogs on politics.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sport and Politics is like oil and water. They don't mix. Yet there are always oil spills.

    The problem with Sport and politics is that we always complain about our politicians sticking their ore in and having their say on issues such as the Bahrain Grand Prix. Yet we forget that the politicians of those countries have already waded in and actually dictating what a sport in their country should be run. Or even interfering with the team selection of other countries that might tour their country.

    For example New Zealand Rugby union toured South Africa in 1976 and 1983. There is no SPORTING reason why they left their non-white players behind. The only reason they left them out was at the request of their hosts. Clear government interference.

    If the Bahrain Grand prix wasn't being run directly by members of their Royal family (who also happen to be their government) then there would've been less fuss.

  • Comment number 3.

    Of course the notion that politics and sport don't mix died years ago, have you not seen Rocky IV?!

  • Comment number 4.

    This is a face saving exercise from the government. I'm pretty sure they can't ban anyone (or anything) that is designated part of the 'Olympic Family'.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    How many people did Hague and Cameron blow up in Libya?

  • Comment number 7.

    Should Prince William be banned from traveling because of the British government's involvement in the Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan atrocities?? Insane. Singling out Sh. Nasser who is an avid sports fan and athlete himself is a low-blow scare tactic by Hague. I'd love to see the backlash if that happens.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    #1: "Correct me if I'm wrong but the race went ahead for sporting reasons."

    Given F1's recent criteria for awarding races to countries, I feel it is more accurate to say it went ahead because Bernie didn't want to lose another £20m as was the case last season. If sporting reasons were truly the criteria for races going ahead or not, I would ask you to explain why Bahrain was called off last year despite similar assurances by the authorities, or why tracks such as Spa and Montreal disappeared off the calendar, however briefly, despite their appeal from a sporting perspective.

    Anyway, I feel that William Hague's comment on being sensitive to world affairs is spot-on - however much we may want sport and politics to remain utterly separate, they have been part and parcel certainly since the rebirth of the Olympics and arguably as far back as the original Olympics in ancient Greece. The city states took quite a lot of interest in proceedings in those days as well, in attempts to get one over their rivals. As has been remarked elsewhere, sport is akin to war without the killing and in that context attempts to draw a line between sport and politics are in my view artificial and mostly doomed to failure. The best we can do is acknowledge the situation for what it is and try to limit the mixture as much as possible, as per #2's analogy with oil spills.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sport and politics has always been intertwined. To say otherwise is to talk nonsense. The England team, at the govts 'request' gave the NAZI salute when the two sides met in Berlin in 1938 - despite the players themselves admitting to deep misgivings. All the Western European sides boycotted the European Cup winners cup in protest at the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1969, the Americans did tit for tat boycotts of the 80s' Olympics and so it goes on.

    The only difference between the above and Hagues threats are, they were significant in their import, and impact. It's typical of the current govt to make paper gestures like this rather than do something concrete, I mean money might be lost otherwise.............

  • Comment number 11.

    If Britain boycotted nations with serious human rights issues, we would have to set up our own Olympics and World Cup, etc. The dictators of Ukraine, Syria and Bahrain are the poster-boys, but human rights are routinely ignored in the third world, which is most of the world.
    BTW Britain fought and is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to better the lives and hopes of the local people. I haven't seen the lives of, say, ordinary people in Somalia improved greatly by the activities of ant-war protesters, nor would their approach helped us against the nazis.

  • Comment number 12.

    11 please stick to facts - At no time was it stated that the purpose for the US invasion of soveriegn states Iraq & Afghanistan was to better the lives of the poeple.
    You may also wish to count up the number of dead, injured, & tortured since they invaded and before they invaded, before making spurious statements.

    Back to the blog - Is Hague now saying iBritain should not have set up teh Middle East and Emirates with as many petty dictators as they could find, except Israel where they got kicked out by a terrorist gang.; and now find everywhere objectionable - except where the terrorists took over. Funny game politics.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    I find myself in the unusual position of quite liking the position of Hague. No interference with the sport, just ban the undesirable freeloaders (who have no sporting connection except that their governments interfere in their own country's sporting governance). There would be no problem if the IOC and similar bodies such as FIFA took action to prevent political appointments and nepotism in their 'families'. Imagine the furore if we appointed Theresa May as our IOC delegate or put a general in charge of the athletics team,

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    12. Are you kidding? The stated reason for the intervention in Afghanistan (not an invasion) was to support the government there in keeping the Taliban out and improving the security and better the lives of the people there. By all means be against the war in Iraq, but the fight in afghanistan is against terrorists pure and simple! Sometimes you have to fight for what is right.

  • Comment number 17.

    Now what about Argentina ? The Argentines are intentionally ramping up pressure over the Falklands. Maybe the Brits should retaliate by making all Argentine officials personae non gratae. Given the involvement of a member of the Argentine Olympic team in that recent disgraceful piece of propaganda, perhaps the entire Argentine team should be banned. If that happens the Argentines will announce a boycott of the games and call upon the whole of the Cono Sur to do likewise - be interesting to see how much support they get.

  • Comment number 18.

    El Salvador and Honduras went to war in 1969 over the result of a football match (yes, a very simplified version of events I know, in the same way that the First World War wasn't entirely down to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand) so the notion that international sport and politics don't go hand in hand will never stand up to scrutiny, it is the nature of the beast, in the same way that the tribal rivalry that is opposing football fans is politics of sorts. The use of the Argentine hockey player for a political advert, although totally and completely disgraceful and a matter that makes my blood run cold, is hardly a massive surprise to be honest

  • Comment number 19.

    It's impossible for the English diplomacy of the 21st century to understand that the Olympic Games are all about peace. The redistribution of the world's resources have priority.

  • Comment number 20.

    Third time lucky? The reason why Prince Nasser will probably be allowed is the same reason why the moderator keep sdeleting my comments. Because you cant prove the allegations against Prince Nasser, awful though they are. So just go along and let him have a happy time because thats what sport is all about. (Silly me, I used to think that being decent and fair was part of what sports tried to teach you too)

 

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