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Report Tells FIFA To Protect Human Rights Or Move World Cup From Qatar

FIFA "must use its influence to address these human rights risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests."
Protesters challenge FIFA to respect the rights of migrant workers in Qatar outside the organization's headquarters in Zurich
Protesters challenge FIFA to respect the rights of migrant workers in Qatar outside the organization's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

International soccer's governing body needs to improve its practices for protecting human rights or consider moving the 2022 World Cup from Qatar, an independent report from Harvard professor John Ruggie recommends.

The report, which was commissioned by FIFA and released Thursday, comes as Qatar faces mounting international criticism for its treatment of migrant laborers who are working on World Cup-related construction projects.

Amnesty International recently interviewed more than 200 migrant workers to document human rights abuses at these construction sites. The global human rights group criticized FIFA for not pressuring Qatar to implement promised reforms, leaving intact a labor system that other groups have likened to "modern slavery."

Ruggie's report also holds FIFA responsible for protecting human rights.

"FIFA is not solely responsible for solving these problems where the actions of others are the primary cause," he stated in a release that accompanied the report. "But it must use its influence to address these human rights risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests."

"Where FIFA is unable to reduce severe human rights impacts by using its leverage, it should consider suspending or terminating the relationship," Ruggie recommended.

Ruggie, who helped develop the United Nations' human rights standards, makes a series of recommendations for how FIFA should proceed. He also praised the organization for its initial steps in this effort, including the decision to commission an independent report.

But FIFA needs to follow through, he said, and should adopt a "clear and coherent" human rights policy, promote a cultural shift within the organization toward respect for human rights, and ask human rights experts to join its newly-created independent governance committee. 

FIFA should also "include human rights within its criteria for evaluating bids to host tournaments and should make them a substantive factor in host selection."

The persistence of Qatar's oppressive labor system and concerns that thousands of workers could die on World Cup projects has already earned the country plenty of negative press. But Ruggie's report also mentions problems with other World Cup hosts, including anti-LGBT laws and migrant worker abuses in Russia, which will host the 2018 World Cup. He also warns that events like the World Cup can "displace communities from their lands and livelihoods without due process and adequate compensation," a practice that occurred near 2014 World Cup venues in Brazil.

“FIFA is fully committed to respecting human rights,” new FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a release. “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 organizations in this important area.”

FIFA needs to take immediate action to protect workers in Qatar, said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has repeatedly called for labor reforms in the country.

"This report makes clear that FIFA must act decisively," Burrow said in a statement. "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 program is completely out of step with the requirements that Professor Ruggie has highlighted."  

"This report represents a major challenge for FIFA," she added, "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."

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