U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) Criticized for “Dictator Games” This Week in United Arab Emirates

Human Rights Organizations Urge NBA to Condemn UAE Rulers’ Violence Against Women, Homophobia, and War in Yemen

A coalition of human rights, women’s rights, and peace organizations is calling on the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) to publicly condemn the rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their violence against women, homophobic laws, and brutal war in Yemen.

The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks basketball teams will play two pre-season games on October 6th and October 8th in Abu Dhabi, one of several monarchies that make up the dictatorship of the United Arab Emirates, which also includes Dubai.

“By picking Abu Dhabi for these NBA pre-season ‘dictator games,’ the NBA is helping the brutal rulers of the United Arab Emirates hide their human rights crimes,” said Sunjeev Bery, Executive Director of Freedom Forward, a human rights campaign organization. “Basketball fans deserve to know that the UAE’s Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, kidnapped his own adult daughters after they tried to escape his clutches. One of his daughters, Princess Shamsa, has been held captive for over 20 years and has reportedly tried to commit suicide several times.”

In a letter (pdf) to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the owners and coaches of the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks teams, 13 organizations are calling on the NBA, Hawks, and Bucks to condemn the human rights violations that have been perpetrated by the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, who include the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

In their letter to the NBA, the human rights organizations point to significant human rights violations by the rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates:

  • War in Yemen:  Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is also the head of the UAE’s dictatorship.  Under his rule, the UAE has helped kill thousands of people through its war in the country of Yemen. 
  • Kidnapping women:  UAE’s ruler of Dubai kidnapped his own adult daughters and has held one of them in drugged captivity for over 20 years.
  • Rape:  A top member of the UAE ruling family still hasn’t been investigated or prosecuted after being accused of rape by British national Caitlin McNamara.
  • Homophobia:  The UAE criminal code continues to criminalize consensual sexual acts, which can be easily used to target gay or lesbian couples and LGBTQ communities.

“The NBA should not be helping the UAE sportswash its human rights crimes. The rulers of the United Arab Emirates have destroyed the lives of thousands of people through their brutal war in Yemen.  Nearly 6 million people in Yemen have been forced to flee their homes, 79% of which are women or children, according to the UNHCR,” said Isaac Evans-Frantz, Director of Action Corps.

There are five key demands for the NBA on the eve of the NBA Abu Dhabi games:

  1. Oppose the UAE’s brutal war in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
  2. Denounce the UAE rulers’ kidnapping of their own adult daughters, including Dubai’s Princess Shamsa, who has not been seen in 22 years.
  3. Call for an investigation of Sheikh Nahyan, the UAE minister accused of rape.
  4. Condemn UAE Dubai ruler Sheikh Maktoum’s record of spousal abuse.
  5. Reveal whether the rulers of Abu Dhabi and the UAE funded or financed the NBA Abu Dhabi Games in any way.

“Imagine if the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks played pre-season games in Moscow during this terrible time for the people of Ukraine. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and the UAE are responsible for a horrible war in Yemen that has killed countless women and men. The NBA is insulting the intelligence of fans by sportswashing the human rights violations and military adventures of the UAE dictatorship,” said Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action.

“The women of Abu Dhabi and the UAE face the rules of a misogynistic and homophobic government. Meanwhile, the women of Yemen have lived for seven years with the horrors of seeing their children under the rubble of their homes, schools and even hospitals, in a war supported by the rulers of the UAE,” said Mary Anne Mercer, Coordinator, Health Advocacy International.

“NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the owners of the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks should be ashamed to be doing propaganda for the brutal, sexist UAE dictatorship. NBA fans should know that millions of Yemeni civilians are trying to keep their families alive in the face of the horrific UAE-backed war and blockade,” said Sarah Burns, Senior Fellow, Just Foreign Policy.

“The carefully curated coverage of these NBA pre-season games will aim to promote an aspirational Abu Dhabi lifestyle, hiding in the shadows the grim reality of life for the city’s vast servant class of migrant workers. Abused and exploited, the UAE’s foreign workers are the ones who make possible the glamor that the NBA is tapping into. So long as the UAE’s rulers can hide this ugly reality behind a wall of celebrity distraction, they will ignore the plight of Abu Dhabi’s thousands of workers,” said James Lynch, director of FairSquare, a labor rights organization.

These human rights demands follow successful human rights campaigns targeting other UAE-linked propaganda efforts, including “The Real Housewives of Dubai” and the UAE Dubai Expo.