Fair PlayBy Alexander Lowe
22 September 2014
The Australian Football League (AFL) has cancelled a sponsorship deal between its affiliated league in Europe and Royal Brunei Airlines. AFL had earlier this year pledged to combat eliminate homophobia in sports so discovery of sponsorship with the state-run airline of Brunei, country with anti-gay laws, became a major embarrassment. Sponsorship agreement to fly international players between Melbourne and London came amidst a worldwide boycott campaign against businesses owned by the Sultan of Brunei after he introduced harsh Sharia laws in his country condemned by the UN and range of countries including US and Australia.
When fully implemented next year, new laws will impose penalties including flogging, the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death for homosexuals and female adulterers. The new legislation caused an outrage among human rights organizations and a celebrity endorsed boycott of the Sultan’s owned hotels from the Dorcherster Collection chain, in particular the iconic Beverley Hills Hotel.
The AFL released a statement that it was unaware of Brunei's adoption of the laws which “are counter to everything the AFL stands for in regards to inclusion and diversity”. ALLOUT started campaign against the deal just a day before it was cancelled.
Sultan of Brunei’s planned to purchase new hotels in New York and London but leading US advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) mobilized public against the deal.
Brunei’s government owned Royal Brunei Airlines is intimately connected with Sultan who had one of their Boeing 747 planes turned into flying palace featuring wash basins of solid gold. With unlimited at the tap access to cheap fuel (gasoline goes in Brunei for US$0.42 a litre), the airline undercuts competition luring New Zealanders with heavily discounted fares to fly to London via Brunei. Special offers from Royal Brunei Airlines are prominently advertised by United Travel and House of Travel and the airline is also featured on Expedia, Webjet, the Flight Centre and STA NZ websites.
So far New Zealand, unlike other countries like Canada, Australia, UK and the USA, has not updated its travel advice for Brunei, there is no mention of sharia law been introduced and no warning for LGBT travellers. And NZ government’s safetravel website also fails to mention that Brunei bans people with HIV/AIDS from entering the country and that they would be deported. Apart from tourists and transit passengers, there are approximately 150 NZ nationals who reside in Brunei and can be affected with Brunei sharia law that is extended to non-Muslim foreign nationals who could be punished even just for using the word ‘Allah’.
New Zealand is the 4th biggest export market for Brunei. While over 100 US members of congress called to exclude Brunei from TPPA negotiations, and Australia is questioning Brunei over new stoning laws before further trade negotiations, NZ has been effectively in free trade agreement with Brunei through four-country TPPA. The latest available figures for 2012 show that that Brunei in a year has doubled its crude oil export to NZ to the cost of nz$1.1billion while import from NZ remained stable, at nz$5,8 million only. Free trade agreements are known to benefit major exporters and current TPPA only appears to increases imbalance of trade between Brunei and NZ.
So far Sultan continues to enjoy royal treatment in NZ, his ‘stone-the-gays’ sharia law has neither been criticized nor even mentioned by NZ government officials. In the meantime New Zealanders are lured to travel to this according to NZ government website ‘friendly’ destination on Royal Brunei Airlines while New Zealand continues to increases its trade deficit with Brunei through existing TPPA.