FIFA must step up human rights commitment: independent report

Thu Apr 14, 2016 10:59am EDT
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - 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 recommendations by a former 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 build stadiums, John Ruggie, the U.N. secretary-general's former 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 past year with criminal investigations into corruption in the sport under way 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 construction workers from Nepal and India being charged recruitment fees and housed in squalid conditions. Qatari officials said 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 host countries comply with standards protecting all workers and that it make clear that it could unilaterally cut ties with entities that violated those standards.

Had the system Ruggie is recommending been in place when FIFA awarded Qatar the World Cup in 2010, it would have negotiated up-front to require better terms for international workers, 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, a professor at Harvard University.   Continued...

John Ruggie, chairperson during the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland is shown in this December 4, 2012 handout photo provided by the United Nations, April 13, 2016.  REUTERS/Jean-Marc Ferre/United Nations Photo/Handout via Reuters