Activists could block 2017 Tour de France over Bahrain prince's team

Groups alleging human rights violations urge UCI to refuse team WorldTour licence

After an announcement by Bahrain's Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa stating his intent to create a cycling team with aims to "compete with the best teams in the world", human rights activists have called on the UCI to block it from receiving a licence under the UCI's ethical code. But should the UCI approve its licence application which, by most reports will be aimed at the WorldTour, some groups have threatened to disrupt the Tour de France in protest.

Prince Nasser announced the team on May 29. The budget of the nascent squad is reported to be in the realm of $16 million, and to be heavily courting Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali.

This week, the advocacy director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Sayed Alwadaei, and Nicholas McGeehan, the Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch, appealed to the UCI to block Nasser's application.

According to Middle East Eye, Bahraini exiles in Europe have stated their intent to protest at the Tour de France and other competitions unless the UCI blocks the team. "There is growing anger and concern about the race, not just from Bahrainis but [also] the cycling community," said Marc Owen Jones, a campaigner with advocacy group Bahrain Watch. "Also given it is a huge media event, spread out across a number of countries, it is likely to generate cross-national cooperation among activists."

Alwadaei supported the idea of a protest, telling MEE, "We are determined to make sure the voices of the victims are heard. We are going to make sure they are remembered."

Those alleged victims were athletes who participated in a 2011 'Arab Spring' uprising. Prince Nasser and Bahraini authorities have strongly denied the allegations.

McGeehan disagreed with protest plan, but urged the UCI to take the allegations seriously. "It's good that the UCI has a code of ethics, but if they want it to mean anything they'll have to take a very serious look at the fact that Nasser publicly threatened people – including athletes – who protested against a government whose security forces were torturing people to death. If the UCI doesn't see that as problematic, protests at races are probably inevitable."


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