FIFA’s Finally Taking World Cup Human Rights Abuses Seriously

A new oversight body is a big first step, but real action is still needed.

Reforming FIFA, the governing body for international soccer perhaps best known for employing executives accused of corruption, is not an overnight process.

But after a two-day trip to Qatar, newly elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino has taken good faith steps toward addressing one of the most important issues currently plaguing the organization: the human rights abuses suffered by migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Infantino, who was elected in February, spent two days in Qatar this week meeting with Qatari leadership to discuss workers' welfare and hear out the country's own planned reforms for its migrant workforce, who've been reportedly subjected to "prison-like" and potentially deadly conditions since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010.

After his diplomatic trip to Qatar, Infantino announced on Friday that FIFA will create an oversight body filled with independent members to ensure "decent" working conditions at World Cup stadium construction sites.

Human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International celebrated Infantino's decision to proactively address Qatar's human rights situation as a "step in the right direction," but warned that immediate action is stilll needed.

“Finally it appears FIFA is waking up to the fact that unless it takes concrete action, the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be built on the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers," Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Gulf Migrants Rights Researcher, said in a release.

Amnesty International has worked with FIFA as a watchdog over the past two years to correct Qatar's human rights abuses, but much of their work yielded little to no response from FIFA. They helped draft Workers' Welfare Standards for the Qatari stadium sites in December 2014. But since then, report after report had continued to criticize FIFA and Qatari leadership for not enacting meaningful reforms. Each time, FIFA has maintained that it was aware of the abuses and serious about amending its situation in Qatar, but failed to move provide evidence of tangible change.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with top Qatari soccer officials this week to discuss workers' reforms at World Cup stadium sites.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with top Qatari soccer officials this week to discuss workers' reforms at World Cup stadium sites.
KARIM JAAFAR via Getty Images

That's completely changed this month. A FIFA commissioned report by Harvard professor John Ruggie on the current human rights situation in Qatar advised FIFA to either improve its protections for workers or seriously consider stripping Qatar of the 2022 World Cup. In a release, Infantino thanked Ruggie for his April report and made it available to the public — a vastly different course of action that his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, has taken in the past. Blatter infamously sealed much of former U.S. district attorney Michael Garcia's 2014 report on potential wrongdoing concerning the 2018 and 2022 World Cup voting process, a suspicious decision that saw Garcia quit FIFA's ethics committee over.

Now that Infantino has promised human rights reforms with the help of a new oversight body, it's time for FIFA to take responsibility and right their wrongs. On-the-ground action is sorely needed, and empty promises, false commitments and empty rhetoric are not enough.

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