Australian rugby union club Melbourne Rebels have apologised for announcing a sponsorship deal with Thailand's national carrier Thai Airways - as refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi was told he needed to spend 60 more days in a Bangkok prison.
The Rebels communicated the news to their followers via their Twitter account on Tuesday with hundreds of people replying with their confusion and disgust in the hours after.
The Melbourne Rebels are thrilled to continue the commercial momentum the Club is building ahead of the 2019 season by officially announcing a new partnership with @ThaiAirways. pic.twitter.com/vS8PLCxni5— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) February 5, 2019
Is this the worst sports sponsorship announcement ever? Extraordinary. #SaveHakeem— 𝘙𝘰𝘣 𝘉𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 (@RobNJBrooks) February 5, 2019
An innocent Aussie is rotting in a Thai jail & being treated appallingly by Thai Govt.— Dean Rosario (@DeanRosario) February 5, 2019
Every decent athlete on the planet is offering support.
But @MelbourneRebels are celebrating a partnership with Thai Govt who own Thai Airways?
Hope your season is a bigger failure than usual
Disgraceful. Are you tone deaf to the people of Australia? A fellow athlete is being held illegally in Thailand and you announce this.#SaveHakeem #BoycottThailand #BoycottSuperRugby #BoycottThaiAirways— Brogan - Firewire Digital (@firewiredigital) February 5, 2019
Wow this such poor form given the plight of Hakeem.... Maybe think before you post.... Or even better get another airline to sponsor you.— Pete Thunder (@PeteThunder136) February 5, 2019
Six hours after announcing the sponsorship, the Rebels issued an apology tweet explaining the deal was not an 'endorsement for the breach of any individual's rights' and pledged to use their new relationship to help with Al-Araibi's situation.
"We have not meant to cause any offense with this announcement and apologise unreservedly if it has done so," the Rebels statement read.
"This commercial relationship with an airline is in no way intended to be an endorsement for the breach of any individual's rights or the actions of any government.
"We support the movement to #SaveHakeem and will use our new relationship with the airline to engage with them directly."
It also emerged A-League club Western Sydney Wanderers have a partnership with Thai Airways that commenced in late November just before Al-Araibi was detained in Bangkok while on a honeymoon from Australia with his wife.
The refugee, who was granted asylum in Australia, is fighting extradition to his country of birth Bahrain and has 60 days to prepare his case while in a Bangkok prison.
Bahrain sentenced Al-Araibi to 10 years jail in absentia for a vandalism charge that the Pascoe Vale footballer says he can prove he did not commit.
Al-Araibi fears he will be tortured or possibly killed if he is forced to return to Bahrain to serve the sentence.
Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster has been leading the crusade to free Al-Araibi, while football stars such as Didier Drogba also pledging their support.