Urgent Action Required from FIFA to Change Course and Show its Human Rights Commitments are Still in Force

(Nyon, Switzerland, 25 November, 2022) — Multiple human rights abuses taking place in the first week of the 2022 FIFA Qatar Men’s World Cup reveal significant backsliding within FIFA on human rights, the Sport & Rights Alliance said today. To realign with its own policies, responsibilities and commitments, FIFA must immediately step up and act to ensure respect for human rights of fans, journalists, and athletes – whether locals or visitors –are upheld for the remainder of the tournament. The Sport & Rights Alliance calls on FIFA to issue a public statement reinforcing their commitment to human rights, how they intend to remedy the incidents that have already occurred and what measures they are putting in place as guarantees of non-repetition.

Even before the first kick-off at the World Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivered an appalling one-hour speech about the criticisms FIFA has received since 2010 when Qatar won the bid to host the world’s most watched sporting event.

“Gianni Infantino is not just a spokesman or a sports personality, he is the president of one of the most powerful sport governing bodies in the world,” said Andrea Florence, director of the Sport & Rights Alliance. “To claim that he feels gay, disabled, that he feels like a migrant worker, or a woman is not only insulting but a terrible attempt to mislead and silence these groups, who are entitled to full human rights protections that FIFA has not delivered. Infantino’s comments have real-world implications and impact – and this first week’s myriad of human abuses are proof of that.”

Infantino’s disrespectful and harmful speech was followed by a host of extremely concerning human rights abuses against players, fans and journalists. These incidents show gross discrepancies between FIFA’s earlier promises and the official policies of World Cup decision-makers and Qatar authorities.

“Just days after President Infantino last parroted the ‘all are welcome’ party line, we have seen footballers threatened with on-field sanctions over pro-LGBTQ armbands and jerseys, rainbow flags, hats and shirts confiscated, and a journalist was even detained for wearing a rainbow shirt,” said Gurchaten Sandhu director of programmes at ILGA World. “This is what happens when hollow and ambiguous statements are not backed up by real actions, specific implementation plans or legal reforms.”

“Interrupting a reporter’s live broadcast and preventing journalists from entering stadiums simply because of a ‘One Love’ armband and a rainbow shirt are clear violations not only of freedom of expression and non-discrimination, but press freedom,” said Justin Shilad, senior researcher at Committee to Protect Journalists. “FIFA must work with Qatar’s Supreme Committee to ensure these harmful actions are stopped and that all journalists are able to do their jobs keeping the public informed and safe throughout the rest of the World Cup.”

Despite FIFA’s promises, LGBTQ solidarity actions have been quashed. FIFA threatened to give yellow cards to England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands if their players wear One Love anti-discrimination armbands. Qatari security personnel forced fans to remove rainbow hats and shirts before entering stadiums.

“From ticketing issues and poor crowd control to discrimination and defending authoritarian governments, there is no more debate – the risks have become reality,” said Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe. “FIFA must take action now to control the damage and ensure urgent protection against further abuse for fans and all attendees, workers, players and volunteers.”

Human rights incidents this week amount to blatant rollbacks from FIFA on human rights-affirming policies. FIFA’s internal Governance Regulation 14.2 requires the President to be “vanguard” of human rights, non-discrimination, equal treatment and solidarity. In 2017, FIFA adopted a landmark Human Rights Policy, embodying Article 3 of FIFA Statutes, which states “FIFA is committed to respecting all recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.” The football governing body’s Human Rights Policy pledges to take “measures to promote the protection of human rights,” saying, “FIFA will take adequate measures for their protection, including by using its leverage with the relevant authorities.”

“It remains impossible to ‘focus on the football’ while FIFA is failing to address the human rights abuses for which it is responsible,” said Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International. “If FIFA is to salvage anything from this tournament, they must invest a significant part of their $7 billion revenues into the new legacy fund and ensure it directly supports workers and their families.”

FIFA’s Human Rights Policy also states a commitment to “contributing to providing remedy where individuals have been adversely affected by activities associated with FIFA.” Though not well-advertised, FIFA has set up a grievance mechanism to field reports of human rights concerns and abuses from anyone attending or involved in the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. Holding FIFA accountable for these failures is critical to ensure remedy is delivered to all who have been negatively impacted by FIFA’s poor human rights strategy at this tournament – including the migrant workers who made hosting a World Cup in Qatar possible.

“The World Cup kicked off this week amidst $220 billion in infrastructure and new stadiums built by thousands of migrant workers whom FIFA has utterly failed,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Yet FIFA still has the chance to provide remedy for families of migrant workers in Qatar who died preventable deaths or experienced life-altering injuries and wage theft. Without real remedy, there will be nothing to celebrate no matter who wins the World Cup.”

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