Fifa warned on human rights over World Cup bids

Amnesty International outside the Qatari embassy on International Migrants Day, in Brussels
Amnesty protested over human rights at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar [Getty Images]

Fifa must "rigorously and transparently ensure" bids to host the 2030 and 2034 men’s World Cups safeguard human rights, says Amnesty International.

In a new report, the campaign group insists the world governing body "must terminate any agreement to host the tournament if human rights are jeopardised or violated".

Last year Fifa confirmed Spain, Portugal and Morocco will be co-hosts in 2030, with the opening three matches taking place in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder for the 2034 tournament.

Fifa says it is "fully committed" to upholding human rights and sustainability standards which are recognised by the international community when staging tournaments.

Amnesty says the Gulf kingdom has an "appalling human rights record and its bid carries a broad range of very serious risks".

But it also warns the 2030 tournament "carries human rights risks primarily related to labour rights, discrimination, freedom of expression and assembly, policing, privacy and housing".

It adds that greenhouse gas emissions generated by travel related to the expanded 48-team tournament across three continents "are likely to be significant, despite Fifa's stated commitment on climate change to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and be 'net-zero' by 2040".

Amnesty claims Fifa has not responded to its requests to speak to consultants involved in human rights-based assessments of the bids.

Fifa has been approached for comment. It is set to formally confirm the hosts of the two tournaments later this year at a meeting of its congress.

When unveiling its choices for hosting the World Cups, it said it was "fully committed" to ensuring the competitions were held to "sustainable event management standards and practices, safeguarding principles for the protection of children and adults at risk and to respecting internationally-recognised human rights in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights".

It has also said it will "conduct a targeted dialogue with bidders, to ensure complete, comprehensive bids are received and evaluated against the minimum hosting requirements.

"[It] will focus on the defined priority areas of the event vision and key metrics, infrastructure, services, commercial, and sustainability and human rights."

Major human rights concerns - Amnesty

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s Head of Labour Rights and Sports, said: "With only a single bid to host each tournament and major human rights concerns surrounding both, there are huge questions about Fifa’s willingness to stand by the pledges and reforms it has made in recent years, including exercising its right to reject any bid which does not meet its stated human rights requirements.

"History shows that the World Cup can be a source of dignity or exploitation, inclusion or discrimination, freedom or repression, making Fifa’s award of the hosting rights for the 2030 and 2034 tournaments among the most consequential decisions ever taken by a sporting organisation."

Assessing the human rights risks related to the respective bids, Amnesty claims that in Spain, Morocco and Portugal "migrant workers are at risk of exploitation", "excessive use of police forces is a proven risk" and "racial discrimination is an issue in all three countries".

It says an independent Fifa evaluation of Morocco's previous bid - to host the 2026 World Cup - "noted its criminalisation of same-sex acts was particularly problematic" and that the country "restricts freedom of expression".

Last year President Dr Patrice Motsepe, the president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) hailed the three-nation bid, saying "this partnership brings together and unites Africa and Europe in football and inspires all of us to work together and make the world a better place. Caf believes that Morocco’s hosting of the World Cup will contribute significantly to the development and growth of football in Africa."

Amnesty says Saudi Arabia has invested in sport "to distract from its abysmal track record of abuses", and that the building programme required for the 2034 tournament is "heightening risks surrounding forced evictions [and] serious risk of labour abuses".

It adds that "discrimination is deeply embedded in legislation and practices, and could impact fans, workers, players and journalists… women fans face the risk of unfair and disproportionate prosecution… and there have been sweeping arrests and imprisonment of journalists, human rights defenders, political activists."

Amnesty says reforms to prevent human rights violations related to the World Cup in Saudi Arabia would need "sweeping changes to labour laws to protect workers, and the release of activists and human rights defenders who’ve been unjustly imprisoned".

Last year the Saudi Sports Minister rejected claims of ‘sportswashing’ and defended the country’s right to host the 2034 tournament, telling the BBC: "We've hosted more than 85 global events and we've delivered on the highest level. We want to attract the world through sports. Hopefully, by 2034, people will have an extraordinary World Cup."

He said “everyone’s welcome” in the kingdom, that sport was helping to modernise the country and the bid "constitutes an important and natural step in our journey as a country passionate about football".

"Any country has room for improvement, no-one's perfect. We acknowledge that and these events help us reform to a better future for everyone," claimed Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal.