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World Cup Bidding Procedure Must Respect Human Rights

Fri 14th Feb 2014 | Football Stadiums & Facilities

FIFPro, the World Footballers’ Union, has told a European Parliament hearing that strictly enforced international human rights standards must be applied as a basic precondition for any country wishing to stage the FIFA World Cup.

Much of the despair in Qatar, where hundreds of migrant workers have died in construction projects ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, could have been avoided if human rights had not been ignored in the bidding process.

In his address to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, FIFPro’s Head of Public Affairs and Policy for Division Europe, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said, “We demand that where human rights of people involved in the mega events are concerned, these must be safeguarded and firmly protected before a mega event is awarded.”

“The prestige and political significance of the highest level of sporting events – the World Cup or the Olympics – are great enough to motivate change if it is a non-negotiable precondition.”

Speaking on behalf of football's world governing body, FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger admitted human rights had not received proper consideration in the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. "FIFA needs to rethink this for future bids" declared Zwanziger.

Representatives from FIFPro, the International Trade Union Confederation, Amnesty International, the International Labor Organization and FIFA each presented their respective positions during a ninety-minute hearing in Brussels.

The event paid particular attention to the plight facing migrant workers in Qatar while raising serious questions about FIFA's failure to put human rights ahead of commercial interests as a mandatory condition of the World Cup bidding procedure.

Baer-Hoffman stated, “While our mandate is to represent professional football players and safeguard their rights, we support our fellow union colleagues fighting for the same cause to ensure all workers can enjoy those very same rights and freedoms, regardless of their occupation.”

“We are concerned about the situation in Qatar from the perspective of the health and safety of our members when performing in extreme weather conditions, but also with the continuing disregard for individual and collective workers’ rights of migrant workers.”

FIFPro has said it could support a proposal to shift the 2022 FIFA World Cup from summer to the winter months, provided it guaranteed the health and safety of the players. The worldwide representative organisation for 65 thousand professional footballers said it will not be drawn on calls for the players to boycott the event.

“Athletes should neither be silenced to not take a stand for something they believe in, nor called to take responsibility for actions and decisions that were ultimately not theirs and on which they had no impact,” concluded Baer-Hoffman.

Zahir Belounis, the French-Algerian footballer who was denied an exit visa by his Qatari club over a contractual dispute which left him without pay for two years, recounted his ordeal before members of the European Parliament, “This kafala system is not for our time.”

The kafala visa sponsorship system ties workers to their employers, as they cannot leave the country or move to another employer without permission.

Belounis: All I wanted to do was to go home to France. I went through two years of torture and decided to stop playing because I no longer had the strength.”

“I hope my appearance before European Parliament can help to bring about change. I hope they will understand the message of my terrible suffering and that it will inspire the authorities in Qatar to abolish kafala and ensure the protection of human rights for all.” 

FIFPro, having met with the Qatari football authorities including Hasan Al Thawadi of the World Cup Supreme Committee and the local FA, has launched several critical objectives:


  • the abolishment of the application of the kafala system;
  • the application of agreed minimum contract requirements and dispute resolution mechanisms;
  • the establishment of an independent football players’ union. This is of particular importance for footballers in Qatar in the light of the establishment of the Qatar Star League, which will provide opportunities for 300 professional players.

Image: Action Images - REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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