Human rights experts debate risks and gains for FIFA, IOC

November 22, 2019
FIFA President Gianni Infantino
FIFA President Gianni Infantino


The tricky balancing act for sports bodies to push progressive policies while supporting host nations with human rights issues was in the spotlight at the United Nations yesterday.

FIFA and the International Olympic Committee were both praised and criticised by delegates at an annual Centre for Sports And Human Rights conference.

Football's world body was hailed as a model Organisation for recently putting a human rights policy into its statutes, including for selecting World Cup hosts.

"It's a playbook for what a (sports) federation could do," Human Rights Watch director Minky Worden told the audience during a panel debate stating "all governments commit human rights abuses and all sports bodies are complicit."

However, critics pointed out that just one month ago, FIFA's ruling Council picked authoritarian China to host the 2021 Club World Cup with no other candidate offered.

That decision, announced October 24 in Shanghai, was "In direct contravention of FIFA's statutory obligation to conduct a human rights audit," said Craig Foster, a former Australia player and rights advocate, at the UN's European headquarters.

World's problems

Foster noted the treatment of Muslims in China's northwest region in comments opening the two-day Sporting Chance Forum. He questioned "whether sport is willing to potentially contribute to (the world's problems), exacerbate them or endorse them."

Last month in China, FIFA President Gianni Infantino had defended the hosting award saying: "It is not the mission of FIFA to solve the problems of the world."

The IOC will also soon go to China, for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, returning 14 years after the city's Summer Games led to less state reform than many hoped for.

Like FIFA, the IOC's policy embeds human rights demands into hosting agreements, though it takes effect after Beijing for the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

"People (working) in human rights don't want to wait," Mary Harvey, chief executive of the conference organisers and an Olympic gold medallist in soccer, told The Associated Press.

Worden detailed types of human rights risks associated with staging major sports events: Forced evictions without compensation, migrant construction workers dying preventable deaths, activists arrested, Internet access shut down.

FIFA has been credited with urging Qatar towards labour reforms that better protect hundreds of thousands of migrant construction workers involved in a massive, decade-long project in searing heat to prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

Other Sports Stories