Global: FIFA must protect human rights by securing binding safeguards from 2030 and 2034 World Cup bidders – new report

FIFA must rigorously and transparently ensure that bids to host the 2030 and 2034 men’s World Cup tournaments fully safeguard human rights and reject any offer that risks abuses once again tainting the world’s largest sporting event.

The report, Playing a Dangerous Game? Human Rights Risks Linked to the 2030 and 2034 FIFA World Cups, assesses the human rights risks related to the bids – a joint offer from Morocco, Spain and Portugal with additional games to be played in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay for the 2030 World Cup finals – and another from Saudi Arabia to host the 2034 tournament. Detailed bid offers, including human rights strategies, are expected to be submitted to FIFA for evaluation within weeks, with football’s governing body due to confirm the hosts in December.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Labour Rights and Sports, said:

“With only a single bid to host each tournament, and major human rights concerns surrounding both, there are huge questions about FIFA’s willingness to stand by the pledges and reforms it has made in recent years, including exercising its right to reject any bid which does not meet its stated human rights requirements.

There are huge questions about FIFA’s willingness to stand by the pledges and reforms it’s made in recent years.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Labour Rights and Sports

“The human rights issues associated with the joint 2030 World Cup bid are significant and must be addressed but the risks associated with the 2034 FIFA World Cup bid by Saudi Arabia – including those faced by workers, fans and journalists – are of an entirely different magnitude and severity.

“History shows that the World Cup can be a source of dignity or exploitation, inclusion or discrimination, freedom or repression, making FIFA’s award of the hosting rights for the 2030 and 2034 tournaments among the most consequential decisions ever taken by a sporting organization.”

Andrea Florence, Director of the Sports & Rights Alliance, a coalition involving Amnesty International which campaigns for human rights in sport, said:

Before it awards any tournament, FIFA must ensure binding human rights agreements that fully protect workers, local communities, players and fans, including safeguarding against abuse and discrimination of racial and religious minorities, women and LGBTI people.

Andrea Florence, Director of the Sports & Rights Alliance

FIFA has insisted that bidders consult civil society organisations, including human rights groups but this hasn’t happened. FIFA hasn’t responded to requests by Amnesty International to speak to consultants involved in the human rights-based assessments of the bids.

FIFA’s failure to fully ensure human rights were safeguarded when awarding most previous World Cups has facilitated abuses. At the 2022 finals in Qatar, workers delivering the tournament suffered grievous harms, including death and injuries.

The new report is based on research by Amnesty International and partners in the Sports & Rights Alliance. Summaries of the report were shared with FIFA, national football associations and government authorities in the bidding countries, and any responses received are included, or will be made publicly available.

Risks of the 2030 World Cup bid

The 2030 joint bid from Morocco, Portugal and Spain – with three matches being played in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – carries human rights risks primarily related to labour rights, discrimination, freedom of expression and assembly, policing, privacy and housing.

Significant construction will be required in Morocco, including on a new 115,000 capacity stadium, but planned legislation to strengthen health and safety in the workplace has yet to be passed, and forced evictions are a concern. In the three proposed host nations, migrant workers are at risk of exploitation and other harms, including trafficking. Injuries in the workplace in Spain and Portugal are higher than the EU average. Migrant workers were abused and suffered wage theft enlarging FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium in 2023.

A large World Cup influx risks exacerbating severe shortages of affordable housing in Portugal and Spain, including an increase in short-term rentals, leading to increased housing costs or evictions of existing residents.

Excessive use of police force is a proven risk in all three countries, around football and in other contexts, including the use of rubber bullets. Police in Spain and Portugal have been the subject of numerous complaints by domestic and foreign fans. The right to privacy may also be threatened through invasive spyware and biometric surveillance, especially in Morocco and Spain.

Police during the Taca de Portugal 2024 final game between FC Porto and Sporting CP at Estadio Nacional Jamor in Lisbon

An independent FIFA evaluation of Morocco’s previous bid, to host the 2026 World Cup, noted its criminalisation of same-sex acts was “particularly problematic”. Other aspects of Morocco’s laws continue to perpetuate the risk of gender-based discrimination against female workers and attendees at the tournament, including the criminalisation of extramarital sexual relations, which often prevents women reporting incidents of sexual violence.

Morocco restricts freedom of expression through the criminalisation of criticism of Islam, the monarchy, state institutions, the military and the state’s territorial integrity. Journalists and human rights defenders have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, beaten and prosecuted for criticizing the government, especially in relation to the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Racial discrimination is an issue in all three states and has involved racist acts towards Black football players, including against Vinicius Junior in Spain, Moussa Marega in Portugal and Chancel Mbemba in Morocco. In Portugal, 60% of people believe there’s racism in football, according to a 2020 survey of people involved in the sport.

Greenhouse gas emissions generated by travel related to a tournament expanded to 48 teams and spanning three continents are likely to be significant despite FIFA’s stated commitment on climate change to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and be “net-zero” by 2040.

Risks of Saudi Arabia’s 2034 World Cup bid

Saudi Arabia has an appalling human rights record and its bid carries a broad range of very serious risks. The Kingdom has spent billions in recent years on an image rehabilitation campaign, heavily reliant on investment in sports including football to distract from its abysmal track record of abuses. A draft penal code looks set to further entrench many human rights violations in law.

Hosting the tournament would require a huge building programme, heightening risks surrounding forced evictions, which have occurred with existing construction projects, including reports of lethal force being used to clear settlements related to The Line, part of the NEOM city building project.

Labourers work on a steel mesh at a construction site in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on May 23, 2022 during a heat wave.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are likely to be required for construction and delivery of the tournament, most of whom are likely to be foreign nationals who already comprise most of the private sector workforce and are at serious risk of labour abuses. The kafala system, which legally binds a migrant worker’s immigration status to an employer or sponsor, leaves workers with limited recourse when subjected to wage theft, violence or other abuses.

Discrimination is deeply embedded in legislation and practices, and could impact fans, workers, players and journalists. Women fans face the risk of unfair and disproportionate prosecution under laws which criminalise sex outside of marriage, often used to silence victims of sexual violence, including rape, and which can result in indefinite detention. The male guardianship system discriminates against women and girls.

Despite the Saudi Tourist Board’s assurance that ‘everyone is welcome,’ there is no legal protection for LGBTI people. Prosecutions are often made under the country’s vague and overly broad public order and morality regulations, as well as the Anti-Cyber Crime Law.

Any public practice of religions other than Islam is banned, and the Shi’a Muslim minority faces significant discrimination. Twelve Shi’a supporters of Al Safa Football Club were recently sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to one year for reciting a folkloric religious chant at a match.

There is little or no freedom of expression, association or assembly. No independent human rights organizations, political parties or trade unions are permitted, and there have been sweeping arrests and imprisonment of journalists, human rights defenders, political activists, writers, clerics and women’s rights activists. Almost all human rights defenders are now either on trial, serving prison terms, under travel bans, or in exile. Broadly defined anti-terrorism legislation has been used to prosecute activists, imposing prison sentences of up to 45 years and even the death penalty for “directly or indirectly” insulting the King or Crown Prince.

Manahel al-Otaibi, sentenced to 11 years
for tweets about women’s rights

No independent media exists, and journalists who criticise the government face censorship, imprisonment and repression. The journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Turkey in 2018 in a killing sanctioned by the Saudi Arabian state. Authorities block a range of websites and have cracked down on individuals online. Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi Arabian doctoral student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, was detained and sentenced to 27 years in prison based on her Twitter activity, and Manahel al-Otaibi, a fitness instructor, to 11 years for tweets supporting women’s rights. Online accounts of critics have been hacked and Pegasus spyware used to target the phones of women’s rights activists, political dissidents, journalists and their family members.

Fans travelling to the tournament, and migrant workers, may believe they’re exempt from the death penalty but foreign nationals made up 39% of people executed in the Kingdom between 2010 and 2021, including for non-violent offences such as drug charges. Amnesty International recorded the execution of 172 people by Saudi Arabia in 2023, from at least 13 different states, and including six women.

Amnesty International is campaigning and petitioning for the release of activists and others detained for speaking out for change.

Remedies and Recommendations

Preventing human rights violations connected to the 2030 FIFA World Cup will require measures to strengthen labour rights, combat discrimination, protect the right to housing, and enable freedom of expression.

Reforms needed to prevent violations related to the 2034 FIFA World Cup bid by Saudi Arabia would need to be more fundamental, including sweeping changes to labour laws to protect workers, and the release of activists and human rights defenders who’ve been unjustly imprisoned.

The report’s key recommendations include that FIFA conducts genuinely independent human rights risk assessments of each bid, and secures binding commitments from host nations to prevent human rights violations, with rigorous systems to monitor and enforce their implementation, including grievance mechanisms and access to effective redress.

FIFA must also ensure meaningful participation of civil society organizations, trade unions, fans’ representatives, players’ unions and groups facing discrimination, throughout the bidding process and tournament preparation.

The report adds that FIFA must not award the World Cup to any bid which fails to guarantee human rights – and terminate any agreement to host the tournament if human rights are jeopardized or violated.