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Thai Airways sponsorship agreement with Australian sports teams mired in controversy

Super Rugby’s Melbourne Rebels is standing by its sponsor, Thai Airways, despite increasing pressure on the club to drop the deal as the al-Araibi crisis deepens.

Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee living in Australia, has spent the last two months in a Thai jail as he faces extradition to his birth country of Bahrain on what his supporters claim are spurious charges.

Just two weeks out from the opening of the 2019 Super Rugby season and eight months before the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the Rebels announced the club would renew its partnership with Thai Airways.

Along with the Melbourne Rebels, Thai also has a sponsorship with the A-League’s Western Sydney Wanderers. The Football Federation of Australia has pledged $10,000 to the campaign working to get al-Araibi, who plays soccer with Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale club, back to Australia.

Mumbrella has confirmed Thai is maintaining its links with both the Melbourne Rebels and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Rebels’ CEO Baden Stephenson said in the announcement: “Rugby is a truly global game and the Super Rugby competition takes the Melbourne Rebels to five continents during the season. With travel being so synonymous with our sport we are delighted to welcome Thai Airways International to our growing coterie of corporate partners.

“The 2019 Super Rugby season is less than two weeks away and we know there are players in every country competing hard for selection to book their seat on their team’s plane to represent their country at the World Cup. Thanks to this great new partnership, more Melbourne Rebels fans will get the chance to book their seat on the plane to Japan too.”

The reaction on Twitter to the announcement was immediate with over 500 comments criticising the club for being involved with the Thai government controlled airline.

 

The #savehakeem movement seeking to get al-Araibi returned to Australia has been led by former Socceroo and football commentator Craig Thompson, with support from high-profile broadcaster Alan Jones.

The campaign has seen both the Australian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister put pressure on their Thai counterparts to free al-Araibi.

Despite the pressure, last night the club apologised for any offense(sic) caused but said it would stand by the airline saying it would use its relationship to engage with the airline over the #savehakeem movement.

Mumbrella has contacted the Melbourne Rebels and Thai Airlines for comment.

 

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