New Op-Ed: Will FIFA Live Up to the Human Rights Challenge?

On 14 April, Harvard professor and former UN Special Representative for Business & Human Rights John Ruggie has published his long awaited report on FIFA and human rights. The report formulates a set of expectations in light of which FIFA will be evaluated in the future. Ruggie calls upon FIFA to use its leverage to improve workers’ rights in Qatar, but his analysis of the organization’s human rights risks also addresses less discussed topics like the trafficking of young players, gender equality in association football or sexual exploitation linked to the influx of tens of thousands of football fans in World Cup host cities.

For FIFA the report means a lot of work. Given the current pressures it faces, it seems unlikely that FIFA will completely ignore the Ruggie report. But taking the report seriously will require more than merely cosmetic changes. A particularly tough challenge will be Ruggie’s demand to move ‘from constitution to culture’ – a culture that has until now been linked more to bribery and corruption than to human rights.

Yet the report is also a chance for FIFA to regain some of the credibility it has lost over the past years. If, under pressure from sponsors, advocacy groups and the public, FIFA manages to turn its statutory commitment into a convincing human rights policy, to match that policy with adequate structures, resources and competences, and to make it gradually guide the activities of the organization in its commercial and sports-related activities, it could make a difference. FIFA could add a grain of reality to some of its more lofty goals – the Ruggie report takes up the slogan “For the Game, For the World” and in its CSR commitments, FIFA portrays itself as a “force for global change” – and show that it can be a leader on a topic that matters to people. The pressure on other sports associations and the International Olympic Committee to take similar steps would be strong.

This comment is based on our German op-ed in the Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung, 15 April 2016. The full Ruggie report is available here. There is also a (not overly encouraging) press statement from FIFA in response to the report.

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