Qatar: FIFA Faces ‘tough decision’ Over World Cup if Human Rights Abuses Continue

Image: Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers building the infrastructure to host the 2022 tournament has come under the spotlight. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Fifa will have to consider the future of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar if its record on the treatment of migrant workers does not improve within 12 months, according to the Harvard professor who has authored an independent report commissioned by world football’s governing body into its human rights responsibilities.

Fifa has come under fire over its failure to consider human rights issues in host countries including Brazil, Russia and Qatar and its reluctance to exert its influence to improve the situation.

In particular, the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar building the infrastructure to host the 2022 tournament has come under the spotlight following a series of investigations by NGOs and the Guardian.

Professor John Ruggie’s report makes 25 explicit recommendations, praising Fifa for making a start in addressing the situation by commissioning the report – but he said it must match its words with action.

“The foundational shift for Fifa now is to go beyond putting words on paper and adding new administrative functions,” he concludes. “What is required is a cultural shift that must affect everything Fifa does and how it does it.”

Ruggie said that among the immediate priorities must be addressing human rights risks in tournaments that have already been scheduled and following through on promises to include such criteria in the bidding requirements for the 2026 World Cup.

The report read: “Fifa should include human rights within its criteria for evaluating bids to host tournaments and should make them a substantive factor in host selection.”

Another of the recommendations states: “Fifa should set explicit human rights requirements of Local Organising Committees in bidding documents for tournaments and provide guidance on them.”

On Qatar, Ruggie noted that the International Labour Organisation had recently given Qatar 12 months to end migrant worker exploitation or face a formal inquiry by the United Nations.

This month an Amnesty report claimed that despite repeated promises of action by the Qatari administration, it found ongoing abuse of migrant workers on a World Cup stadium project and a related development.

A labourer pictured in March in accommodation built to house 70,000 workers, some of whom work on World Cup projects. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

This week the Guardian revealed that two major British firms had been accused of mistreating migrant workers on construction projects not directly related to the World Cup but part of the huge building boom that has characterised the tiny Gulf state’s attempt to vault on to the world stage.

“Fifa can’t impose human rights on countries but in return for hosting a tournament there are certain human rights to which you should have to adhere,” Ruggie told the Guardian. “If you can’t, you have to make tough decisions. That may include having to terminate an existing relationship.”

Asked specifically about Qatar, he said: “The ILO has recently put out an assessment in which they put off a decision for a year. They didn’t want to shut the door. The next ILO report will be absolutely critical. If it says six to seven years later that no progress has been made then that’s pretty clear.”

He added: “I think the ILO was being quite strategic in what they did. My sense is that the Supreme Committee will do everything humanly possible to meet the tests. If it doesn’t, Fifa has a tough decision.”

The Supreme Committee, responsible for the World Cup, has introduced minimum standards for its contractors and there has been some progress more widely on living standards for some workers.

However, human rights groups claim too little progress has been made on sweeping away the kafala system that bonds labourers to their employer and has been likened to modern slavery.

Ruggie also said there were major human rights issues facing the Russia 2018 World Cup. “There is stuff happening in Russia that hasn’t been much written about in terms of forcible removal of people, migrant labour issues, like there was in Sochi [before the 2014 Winter Olympics],” he said. “That should be all part of the conversation.”