Will the New FIFA President End Abuses?

Sepp Blatter
Sepp Blatter

The next president of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) – world football’s governing body – should ensure that future host countries of the World Cup are required to comply with fundamental human rights norms, says Human Rights Watch. The FIFA presidential election will be held in Zurich today, May 29, 2015.

The FIFA presidential election will take place just two days after a US Department of Justice indictment named 14 FIFA officials and marketing executives on charges including racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. The two candidates are the incumbent, Sepp Blatter of Switzerland, seeking a fifth term, and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

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Meanwhile, Blatter said in a statement Wednesday, “We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”

In April, the Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA) – a new coalition of leading rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, sports organizations, and trade unions – sent a questionnaire to the FIFA presidential candidates, asking specific questions about abuses linked to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and about the FIFA reform process.

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The questionnaire asked candidates to tackle rights and labor abuses related to the 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup, such as Qatar’s abusive kafala sponsorship system for migrant workers, which is a key part of a highly exploitative labor system.

During his 17 years at the helm, Blatter, the incumbent president, made no personal commitment to address these issues. Instead, his office issued a statement outlining the work FIFA has done to tackle corruption, and pointed to a long-overdue revision of the bidding process relating to human rights, labor standards, sustainability, and anti-corruption measures, Human Rights Watch reported Thursday.

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The 2022 Qatar World Cup, involving the construction of eight new stadiums and infrastructure by thousands of migrant workers, will cost an estimated US$200 billion. Qatari authorities arrested German and British television crews as they sought to document conditions for migrant workers working on the project, most of them South Asian.

Human Rights Watch documented exploitation of migrant workers ahead of the Sochi Olympics, including during construction of the Fisht Stadium, a 2018 World Cup venue. The Russian prison service recently announced its support for proposed legislative changes to allow prisoners to work at factories generating building materials, including for World Cup projects, as a cost saving measure.

Photo courtesy: FIFA

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Rakesh Raman