Craig Foster and Hakeem al-Araibi

What I admire greatly about Craig Foster is that he is so very understated.

I met the man at a FECCA conference in Hobart recently, and as is obligatory these days when in the company of someone of note, I asked for a selfie. He was happy to oblige and that went to my Facebook page very quickly thereafter!

His book Fighting for Hakeem was released a few days later.  I am delighted to have finally read all the detail of the immense task he undertook in order to “Save Hakeem”.

With Craig in Hobart

The story of that fight is quite fascinating and for those who don’t know the basics, it’s well worth the Google. In potted form the story is as follows:

Hakeem is a young Bahraini footballer (the world game variety – not the one played exclusively in this country by people who would make the Amazonian tribes look positively Lilliputian!).

Bahrain is ruled by a monarchy which is dictatorial and not particularly interested in the Human Rights of ordinary Bahrainis. And this leads the quietly spoken, gentle boy, with the talent in the sporting arena to start to rebel and question their authority. Like many others, he is then forced to flee the country and eventually ends up in Australia.

Hakeem soon thereafter marries his sweetheart, Nani. They head to Bangkok for their honeymoon. It is at this point that things unravel badly. He is mistakenly taken into custody as a person wanted by the Bahraini authorities, even though he has been granted refugee status in our country.

The process then begins of trying to rescue him from the hell hole that is the Bangkok jail, and get him back to Australia.

The detail of what happens between the time of his honeymoon and return to Australia is beautifully documented. Having visited Bangkok, I can visualise everything Foster documents in such detail. Foster is a terrific narrator and does not gloss over detail. Everything is presented in stark reality and there is little left to speculation.

But, in the telling of the detail Foster glosses over his own contribution and steely resolve. He documents the interaction with world-renowned figures in sport and human rights areas almost as though they are interactions that any of us could have. I believe he is simply allowing us to see that any of us could do the same. His harnessing of social media in the #SaveHakeem hashtag was legendary. It is what drew my attention to the whole issue and allowed me to Tweet and Retweet and Facebook Foster’s messages with ease.

There is a much deeper, and in my view, more interesting, aspect to this whole story. This is about the commitment that Foster has and always has had to issues of human rights and their preservation. He continues to advocate in the human rights spaces around refugees and asylum seekers.

Craig Foster also believes in the use of his sporting status to achieve change. This is his abiding raison d’etre. He does not inflate his status in any fashion. He is however, well aware of the capacity to use it to best advantage. And yet, he does this with tact and diplomacy. He is very strategic in his thinking and seemed in Hakeem’s case to have that strategy well planned and reasoned before he embarked on any aspect of it.

In the book Foster crosses the divide that would normally exist between sport and human rights very easily. He actually sees the role of the world game to be that of upholding and championing those rights that are often trampled on.

“This was a fight for the soul of sport and, whilst a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead,” he said.

“First step was to save Hakeem’s life, the next is to hold the game accountable to its response or lack thereof, and to ensure all those in positions of governance that were willing to sacrifice the life of one player while occupying positions of influence and prestige, whether in football, the Olympic movement, or any other sport, are expunged.”

Foster has been clear that the issue of Saving Hakeem was merely the tip of the iceberg. Now there is plenty of other work that he is embarking on because, he says, “Australia must do better than we have in recent years.”

There is much to be learnt from Craig Foster. He has become very much an ambassador for human rights. If we were to take one simple message out of the book, it is that all of us can do our bit.

Foster used his immense network to achieve success and freedom for Hakeem. It is now incumbent on all of us in the world to do what we can in our own spheres of influence to ensure that the basic humanity of all of us is preserved.

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