FIFA Must Step Up Human Rights Commitment: U.N. Report

FIFA has been thrown into turmoil in the last year with criminal investigations into corruption in the sport underway in the United States, where several dozen former soccer officials have been indicted, and Switzerland. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/Files

By Scott Malone

BOSTON, April 14  – Soccer’s embattled world governing body must make human rights one of its primary goals, on a par with promoting the sport and making money, according to a set of recommendations by a top U.N. official released on Thursday.

FIFA should be prepared to use its negotiating leverage to ensure that countries bidding for its World Cup championship protect the rights of people who toil to build stadiums, John Ruggie, the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for business and human rights, wrote in the 42-page report.

“What is required is a cultural shift that must affect everything FIFA does and how it does it,” said the report, made at the request of the 112-year-old group of 209 national member associations. “This includes … building and using its leverage to address these risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests.”

The Switzerland-based federation has been thrown into turmoil in the last year with criminal investigations into corruption in the sport underway in the United States, where several dozen former soccer officials have been indicted, and Switzerland.

The recommendations come two weeks after Amnesty International described rights abuses in Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup, including the practice of construction workers from Nepal and India being charged recruitment fees and housed in squalid conditions. Qatari officials said at the time they were working to resolve those issues.

The report urges FIFA to abide by the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. That would mean insisting that contractors and host countries for its events comply with standards protecting the rights and dignity of all workers, and that it make clear in contracts that it could unilaterally cut ties with entities which violated those standards.

Had the system Ruggie is recommending been in place when FIFA awarded Qatar the World Cup in 2010, the organization would have negotiated up-front to require better terms for international workers involved in any aspect of preparations for the cup, from construction workers to people producing souvenirs, he said.

“It is not FIFA trying to transform the country but it is trying to transform what the county does in relation to the tournament,” said Ruggie, who is also a professor at Harvard University, in a phone interview.

The group’s president, Gianni Infantino, said FIFA would work to implement some of Ruggie’s recommendations.

“FIFA is fully committed to respecting human rights,” Infantino said in a statement.

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