Human Rights Experts Urge Fifa To Scrutinize Saudi Arabia Before 2034 World Cup Vote

FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
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DUBLIN (AP) — FIFA was urged by international lawyers Wednesday to uphold its own policy and scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record before picking the kingdom to host the men’s 2034 World Cup.

A 22-page document was delivered to FIFA headquarters in Zurich on behalf of Mark Pieth and Stefan Wehrenberg of Switzerland and British barrister Rodney Dixon. They offered to work with FIFA on an action plan and monitoring of Saudi Arabia by independent experts.

Their paper calls on FIFA to use its leverage now with Saudi Arabia to comply with international human rights standards that the world soccer body’s own policy since 2017 has required of tournament hosts.

“It is obvious that Saudi Arabia falls very far short of those requirements,” the document states. “Given this, as matters currently stand, FIFA simply cannot properly permit it to host the 2034 World Cup.”

They cite Saudi Arabia's record on freedom of expression and assembly, treatment of prisoners and migrant workers, and male guardianship laws that limit personal freedoms for women.

Saudi Arabia has consistently said it is changing fast as part of the Vision 2030 program to modernize the kingdom's economy and society driven by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hosting more sports and entertainment events is key to the program to be less dependent on oil riches.

Saudi Arabia is the only candidate to host the 2034 World Cup in a fast-track process FIFA opened last October in a surprise move.

By brokering a three-continent, six nation co-hosting deal for the 2030 tournament, FIFA effectively cleared a path for Saudi Arabia to get the following edition without a rival bid.

The Saudi bid must be formally submitted by July and is set to be confirmed on Dec. 11 in an online vote by FIFA’s 211 member federations.

The lawyers want FIFA to use the leverage it has now with the bid to comply with the soccer body’s own policy drafted seven years by Harvard University professor John Ruggie. He previously shaped the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights.

“Let’s give FIFA a chance,” Pieth told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “FIFA has written a very impressive document and I would be really happy to see FIFA live up to its standards.”

Pieth previously worked with FIFA between 2011 and 2014 advising on anti-corruption and good governance reforms after a bribery scandal in its presidential election held six months after Russia and Qatar were picked as future World Cup hosts. Key reforms such as term limits for senior officials are now in retreat across soccer and FIFA totally resisted putting independent outsiders on its ruling committee.

After controversy about lack of scrutiny of 2022 World Cup host Qatar — mostly over the treatment of migrant workers needed to build stadiums and infrastructure projects — FIFA acted seven years ago to embed human rights assessments of tournament bidders.

Since 2017, one year after Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA president in fallout from sweeping investigations of corrupt soccer officials, he has built close ties to Saudi Arabia and its crown prince.

Pieth, Wehrenberg and Dixon said their paper to FIFA was written “on behalf of persons who are suffering from serious violations of their basic human rights and freedoms by Saudi Arabia.”

“The authors of this submission are ready to engage constructively with FIFA to ensure that these minimum requirements, at least, are achieved,” they said.

FIFA was contacted for comment.

Bid rules for the 2030 and 2034 World Cups commit FIFA to respecting human rights in “activities in connection with the bidding for and hosting” of tournaments rather than in wider society.

Pieth told The AP any FIFA-backed monitoring group of Saudi Arabia must have “real, credible experts and independence.” The paper to FIFA said it should include “expert members from victims groups, NGOs, UN agencies, international unions and civil society organizations.”

The state-backed Saudi Human Rights Commission — whose leader met Infantino in Jeddah in December during the Club World Cup – was "not an appropriate alternative” to an independent group, the paper said.

Ruggie's work with FIFA included a human rights advisory board that was closed after delivering a scheduled report early in 2021, removing a forum to oversee Qatar less than two years out from the World Cup.


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