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Amnesty International questions new UAE Team Emirates women's team

Joe Robinson
13 Oct 2021

Group has called for riders and managers to 'familiarise themselves with the UAE’s human rights record' especially in regard to women

Human Rights organisation Amnesty International has called upon riders, managers and support staff to 'familiarise themselves with the UAE’s human rights record' in light of the announcement that UAE Team Emirates are attempting to acquire a UCI women's team for 2022.

The current men's WorldTour team, which is sponsored by the Emirati nation of the United Arab Emirates, announced on Tuesday morning it intends to buy the UCI licence of Italian-registered Alé BTC Ljubjana team in order to launch its own women's team.

This comes despite continued vocal criticism of the UAE in regard to its human rights record, especially surrounding equality of women. 

In a statement provided to Cyclist, head of priority campaigns at Amnesty International UK Felix Jakens called this another attempt to 'sportswash' the nation's image.

'This looks like another Emirati attempt to buy into the excitement and prestige of sport as a means to soften its image, obscuring its deeply-troubling human rights record,' Jakens told Cyclist.

'Sportswashing is nothing new for the UAE – from its investment in hugely successful football clubs like Manchester City and recent A-League title-winners Melbourne City, to its hosting of major golf tournaments and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.'

Jakens added that those currently managing the Alé BTC Ljubljana team needed 'to avoid complicity in human rights abuse and we would urge it to conduct the necessary due diligence to ensure this'. 

He added that 'riders, managers and support staff should familiarise themselves with the UAE’s human rights record as a matter of urgency and be prepared to speak out about it.'

Earlier this year, a BBC Panorama investigation reported that Princess Latifa, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, leader of the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, was being being held captive by her father against her will.

While Latifa has since been released, Amnesty Interrnational pointed to her treatment, and that of fellow Princess Haya, as proof that women's rights are being persistently violated.

'As we’ve seen with the high-profile case of Princess Haya and the use of spyware against her circle, the UAE deploys repressive tactics against those who offend its leaders or criticise government policies,' Jakens added.

'The treatment of Princess Haya and Princess Latifa by Sheikh Mohammed and his operatives is a clear indication of how women’s rights in the UAE are downgraded and violated.'

The Alé BTC Ljubljana women's team is currently registered in Italy and is one of only eight women's WorldTour teams. The roster includes former world champion Marta Bastianelli and recent Giro dell'Emilia winner Mavi Garcia. If the sale of the licence was to go through and be approved by the UCI, it is expected the team would be registed in the UAE.

In a press release alongside the announcement, UAE Team Emirates team manager Mauro Gianetti said, 'We are pleased to announce that we are working to create a female team to compete on the world stage as part of the UAE's ambition to develop cycling, in support of a global project that started back in 2017.'

'Together with the Alé BTC Ljubljana Team we have found the right opportunity and the availability we were looking for and, in collaboration with the UCI, we are preparing all the necessary documents for the completion of the acquisition of the World Tour licence starting from 1 January 2022.'

We've contacted the UCI and UAE-Team Emirates for comment and are awaiting responses.

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