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FIFA and Human Rights

The past few weeks have revealed FIFA’s ills. The allegations and arrests of key officials have focused on massive corruption that has infiltrated the organisation’s workings.

While this is long overdue, another dark side to FIFA is being ignored. Many countries that have hosted World Cups or won bids to hold them have dismal human rights records. And holding a FIFA event often exacerbates those violations, whether it’s forced evictions of favela residents in Rio (in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup) ostensibly to build stadiums and infrastructure, violations of workers’ rights in Qatar, or the assault on LGBT rights in Russia. The evidence from previous editions of the World Cup includes child sexual abuse, trafficking of women and children, excessive violence by security agencies, forced removal of the homeless and evictions, impact on freedom of movement with the creation of ‘exclusive zones’ and so on.

If all this is true, as available evidence indicates, Sepp Blatter’s resignation on June 2 was a welcome development. Not only was he president and architect, for 17 years, of an institution which became a byword for corruption, but one which through acts of omission and commission tolerated rights violations around the world.

Numerous rights and development organisations (Amnesty International, Institute of Business and Human Rights, The Sports and Rights Alliance, Brazilian National Coalition of Local Committees for a Peoples’ World Cup and Olympics) and trade unions (International Trade Union Confederation, Building and Woodworkers’ International) have attempted to alert the world to these violations. But FIFA has acted as if human rights have nothing to do with their mandate.

As Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the UN Human Rights Council, I wrote to FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2007, asking for a meeting to discuss these issues, and to ascertain whether FIFA and the IOC could build into its agreements a commitment of host states to halt human rights violations if their candidature was to be taken seriously. Unlike the IOC (which did respond and agreed to meetings), FIFA did not bother to send any official response. One of their officials said on the phone: “FIFA’s work is limited to managing the World Cup and it has no mandate nor interest in looking into the human rights records of bidding or host countries.”

In 2014, however, after years of pressure, FIFA did announce that new bidding rules would incorporate respect for human rights. But no progress is evident since then.

The waters in which FIFA has been immersed all these years are so murky that there is a distinct possibility, since Sepp Blatter was re-elected president last week for the fifth time, that FIFA may sink as an organisation. With Blatter’s resignation, there is now an opportunity for FIFA to reform itself. Radical restructuring must usher in an era where upholding human rights records of potential host countries, and the sponsors of the World Cup, at the time of bidding and through the World Cup process will be a central requirement, as demanded in FIFA regulations. For this infusion of ethics and morality into the process leading up to the next World Cup events, a no hold barred investigation needs to take place.

For a start, there could be a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on FIFA and human rights. This would need to take stock of FIFA’s historic complicity in rights violations, and discuss the role that UN organisations must play to consistently monitor, and if possible regulate, the workings of international organisations like FIFA, which act without any accountability. Why shouldn’t the rules and regulations that govern these organisations be based on international human rights standards? Is the UN Human Rights Council up to the task?

Miloon Kothari is the former Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing of the UN Human Rights Council.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

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