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Hakeem 'Shocked' By FFA Decision To Support Man Who Could Have Saved Him

Australia's football federation made its choice for Asian Football Confederation president -- and it's the man who could have saved Hakeem Al-Araibi from detention, but didn't.

The FFA confirmed on Tuesday it will join with fellow ASEAN Football Federation nations in backing Sheikh Salman in the April 6 election in Malaysia.

Sheikh Salman is a member of the Bahraini royal family, and has held the position since 2013. He has faced global criticism for human rights abuses and his conduct during al-Araibi's 76-day detention in Thailand -- including failing to seek his release. 

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, who was instrumental in securing Al-Araibi's release, told The Project he was "staggered and saddened" by the FFA decision that has taken sport governance to "a new low".

Hakeem al-Araibi. Image: AAP

The Bahraini-born Australian footballer was detained during his honeymoon in November and threatened with extradition to his country of birth.

He was granted asylum and refugee status in Australia after fleeing Bahrain following his imprisonment alleged torture there in 2012. Al-Araibi had spoken out against persecution and torture of other footballers who had demonstrated against the ruling regime during the Bahraini uprising of 2011.

READ MORE: FFA Support Re-Election Of AFC President, Despite Al-Araibi Controversy

"I was overwhelmed by the support I had from the Australian and Asian football communities who worked so hard to free me from unjust detention in Thailand," al-Araibi said in a statement issued by Amnesty International Australia on Monday.

He said was "shocked and disappointed" the FFA would continue to support a person who oversaw his detention and torture in Bahrain.

"How can he be a ‘fit and proper’ leader for football in our region?"

Amnesty International Australia's campaigns manager, Tim Connor, said the footballing body must "ask serious questions about how they do not breach FFA's own human rights policy".

“Sheikh Salman has been linked to serious human rights abuses in Bahrain, including the imprisonment and torture of Hakeem Al-Araibi, which FIFA has failed to address," he said.

“Rather than address these issues, they have chosen to prioritise financial growth over standing up for what’s right.”

Craig Foster, L, was instrumental in securing al-Araibi's release. Image: 10 News First.

Nikou said the association was "acutely aware" of concerns about the role of the AFC during Al-Araibi's detention.

He said the FFA was in "regular dialogue" with the AFC, FIFA and the Australian government "to ensure appropriate steps were taken to support efforts for Hakeem's release".

"We did this privately by lobbying those in positions of influence and ultimately, through the work of many, the right outcome was achieved," he said.

Foster released a statement on Monday, later telling The Project the FFA's "disgusting" decision was "a slap in the face" for those who supported al-Araibi.

"I'm staggered, saddened and in many ways embarrassed that after what was a beautiful, inspiring story of all of us working together to free a young refugee footballer, I'm having to talk about what is a disgusting decision that takes sport governance, in our game, to a new low," he said.

The real question for Australia is, is that good enough for us? It can't be.

Foster said the decision reflects a lack of "moral compass" for the game.

"There has to be some type of standard that we have to remain above," he said.

"If it's not the complicity in torture of athletes and the incarceration and obstruction of the freedom of one of our players, then I just don't know what it is anymore."

Featured image: AAP

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au