Fifa faces ‘tough decision’ over Qatar World Cup if human rights abuses continue

Author of Fifa-commissioned report into human rights says UN verdict key
Report urges Fifa to up its game and start matching words with action

 Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers building the infrastructure to host the 2022 tournament has come under the spotlight. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers building the infrastructure to host the 2022 tournament has come under the spotlight. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Fifa will have to consider the future of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar if its record on the treatment of migrant workers does not improve within 12 months, according to the Harvard professor who has authored an independent report commissioned by world football’s governing body into its human rights responsibilities.
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Fifa has come under fire over its failure to consider human rights issues in host countries including Brazil, Russia and Qatar and its reluctance to exert its influence to improve the situation.

In particular, the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar building the infrastructure to host the 2022 tournament has come under the spotlight following a series of investigations by NGOs and the Guardian.

Professor John Ruggie’s report makes 25 explicit recommendations, praising Fifa for making a start in addressing the situation by commissioning the report – but he said it must match its words with action.

“The foundational shift for Fifa now is to go beyond putting words on paper and adding new administrative functions,” he concludes. “What is required is a cultural shift that must affect everything Fifa does and how it does it.”

Ruggie said that among the immediate priorities must be addressing human rights risks in tournaments that have already been scheduled and following through on promises to include such criteria in the bidding requirements for the 2026 World Cup.

The report read: “Fifa should include human rights within its criteria for evaluating bids to host tournaments and should make them a substantive factor in host selection.”

Another of the recommendations states: “Fifa should set explicit human rights requirements of Local Organising Committees in bidding documents for tournaments and provide guidance on them.”

On Qatar, Ruggie noted that the International Labour Organisation had recently given Qatar 12 months to end migrant worker exploitation or face a formal inquiry by the United Nations.

This month an Amnesty report claimed that despite repeated promises of action by the Qatari administration, it found ongoing abuse of migrant workers on a World Cup stadium project and a related development.

A labourer pictured in March in accommodation built to house 70,000 workers, some of whom work on World Cup projects.
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A labourer pictured in March in accommodation built to house 70,000 workers, some of whom work on World Cup projects. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
This week the Guardian revealed that two major British firms had been accused of mistreating migrant workers on construction projects not directly related to the World Cup but part of the huge building boom that has characterised the tiny Gulf state’s attempt to vault on to the world stage.


“Fifa can’t impose human rights on countries but in return for hosting a tournament there are certain human rights to which you should have to adhere,” Ruggie told the Guardian. “If you can’t, you have to make tough decisions. That may include having to terminate an existing relationship.”

Asked specifically about Qatar, he said: “The ILO has recently put out an assessment in which they put off a decision for a year. They didn’t want to shut the door. The next ILO report will be absolutely critical. If it says six to seven years later that no progress has been made then that’s pretty clear.”

He added: “I think the ILO was being quite strategic in what they did. My sense is that the Supreme Committee will do everything humanly possible to meet the tests. If it doesn’t, Fifa has a tough decision.”

The Supreme Committee, responsible for the World Cup, has introduced minimum standards for its contractors and there has been some progress more widely on living standards for some workers.

However, human rights groups claim too little progress has been made on sweeping away the kafala system that bonds labourers to their employer and has been likened to modern slavery.

Ruggie also said there were major human rights issues facing the Russia 2018 World Cup. “There is stuff happening in Russia that hasn’t been much written about in terms of forcible removal of people, migrant labour issues, like there was in Sochi [before the 2014 Winter Olympics],” he said. “That should be all part of the conversation.”

The stadium in Sochi for the 2018 World Cup
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This stadium in Sochi is due to host matches at the 2018 World Cup. The author of the Fifa-commissioned report, Professor John Ruggie, said there were major human rights issues facing the tournament in Russia. Photograph: TASS/Barcroft Media
He raised an alarm about the Under-20 women’s World Cup, which will take place in Papua New Guinea in November and December. “I was shocked by how little interest that had generated within Fifa when we know that multinational organisations will not allow women to go on the streets in broad daylight.”


The report adds: “Papua New Guinea is known as one of the world’s worst places for sexual violence against women – and police are often among the perpetrators. This is precisely the kind of case that requires heightened human rights due diligence as part of the bid evaluation process.”

With the decision already taken, the report calls on Fifa to prove that adequate security arrangements are being made to address the risks.

The report said that it was not enough for Fifa to claim it had limited influence, calling on it to work to maximise its leverage on human rights issues. Ruggie said: “Its leverage concerns the activities involved in hosting and staging a tournaments. It requires the LOCs to get declarations from governments. They all have human rights implications.”

Ruggie, a respected expert in the field, who was responsible for drawing up the UN guiding principles on business and human rights during 14 years in senior roles at the organisation, said that Fifa’s human rights responsibilities went beyond those issues related to tournaments.

Among others, he mentioned the risks to workers’ rights in Fifa’s own supply chain, alleged trafficking of young players and “endemic” discrimination against women in world football. He also called for Fifa to invest more resource in tackling the issue.

“The HQ of Fifa is a surprisingly small entity. The new president has to pump more money into Fifa staff in Zurich, if only to get more eyes and hands monitoring information with regard to their supply chain and so on and so forth. At present, they lack the capacity to do what is required. You can’t just hire a human rights manager and think you’re done.”

Fifa recently advertised for a new human rights manager and its head of sustainability, Federico Addiechi, insisted it was now taking the subject seriously. “As the governing body of the most popular sport in the world, we have a responsibility in regard to human rights and in terms of how we go about developing the game of football and organising our competitions,” he said. “Beyond that, Fifa is committed to using its leverage to ensure respect for human rights.”

Ruggie added: “Fifa is not solely responsible for solving these problems where the actions of others are the primary cause. But it must use its influence to address these human rights risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests.”

The new Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, said Fifa was “fully committed to respecting human rights” and said the new report would guide the way forward. “This is an ongoing process and of course challenges remain but Fifa is committed to playing its part in ensuring respect for human rights and to being a leader among international sports organisations in this important area,” he said.

Ruggie’s report was welcomed by Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and a trenchant critic of the lack of progress by Qatar on the migrant workers issue. “This report makes clear that Fifa must act decisively. Equally Qatar, which fails massively to meet the standards set out in the report, must ahead of the UN human rights and business forum which it is hosting next week, make a real commitment to comprehensive reform,” she said.

“The system of modern slavery for migrant workers, the absolute denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, the poverty wages and the deep discrimination encountered by those who are delivering the huge 2022 infrastructure programme is completely out of step with the requirements that Professor Ruggie has highlighted,” added Burrow.

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Migrant workers forced out of ‘family zones’ in Qatar – video
“This report represents a major challenge for Fifa and it also gives an opportunity for Qatar to comprehensively reform its medieval labour laws and thus retain the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup,” she said.

Amnesty International UK called on Infantino to take immediate steps to improve conditions for migrant workers in Qatar. “Only concerted Fifa action to prevent abuses on World Cup sites will save the soul of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” it said.

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