The ugly side of the beautiful game

Migrant workers are still being abused in Qatar. FIFA is committed to respecting human rights, President Infantino says.

The ugly side of the beautiful game
Foto: FIFA

For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers it can feel like living a nightmare. At least if one is a migrant worker in Qatar, hosts for World Cup 2022.
It illustrates a report from Amnesty International; ‘The ugly side of the beautiful game’, published in April 2016. Amnesty International has spoken with 132 migrant construction workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, rebuilding Khalifa stadium, set to be the first stadium completed for the World Cup tournament and slated to host a World Cup semi-final in 2022. And the report shows that all workers have suffered systematic abuses, in some cases even forced labour.
“The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. Despite five years of promises, FIFA has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General, says.


“Indebted, living in squalid camps in the desert, paid a pittance, the lot of the migrant workers contrasts sharply to that of the top-flight footballers who will play in the stadium. All workers want are their rights; to be paid on time, leave the country if need be and be treated with dignity and respect,” Salil Shetty continues.
“In a context where the Qatari government is apathetic and FIFA is indifferent, it will be almost impossible for the World Cup to be staged without abuse,” Salil Shetty states and continues:
“Hosting the World Cup has helped Qatar to promote itself as an elite destination to some of the world’s biggest clubs. But world football cannot turn a blind eye to abuse in the facilities and stadiums where the game is played. If FIFA’s new leadership is serious about turning a page, it cannot allow its showcase global event to take place in stadiums built on the abuse of migrant workers.”

Words on paper

Maybe FIFA will turn a page? At least FIFA has hired Harvard professor John G. Ruggie to review FIFA’s human rights policies and recommend reforms. Ruggie’s report; ‘For the game. For the world’, out in April 2016, notes FIFA does not have much in place to protect human rights. But the report calls also on FIFA to develop effective rights policies and procedures, to ensure it avoids or mitigates human rights violations, and enable victims to secure redress. The report offers a credible picture of what a meaningful human rights infrastructure at FIFA could look like – but for now it is nothing more than words on paper.
“FIFA governs and supports a global network of over 200 national football associations and is connected through its tournaments to thousands of business. As for any international sports organisation today, this kind of global footprint brings with is significant risks to people’s basic dignity and welfare. And that reality demands a robust and proactive response. FIFA is not solely responsible for solving these problems where the actions of others are the primary cause. But it must use its influence to address these human rights risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests,” John G. Ruggie says.


“The key now is implementation. For my report to have the necessary impact, FIFA’s top leaders need to follow through on its recommendations. That means resourcing the administration adequately for the task and integrating the results of their work into political decision-making. It is my sincere hope that FIFA will make this work a priority. What is required is a cultural shift that must affect everything FIFA does and how it does it,” John G. Ruggie says and continues:
“Where FIFA is unable to reduce severe human rights impacts by using its leverage, it should consider suspending or terminating the relationship.”
Or in other words; John G. Ruggie’s message to FIFA is: “If you don’t fix these problems, if you don’t respond to these challenges, you will see outside interference from governments and that’s the thing you hate most of all. So get going and fix this thing yourself before someone is force to fix it for you!”

FIFA will act

According to FIFA President Gianni Infantino FIFA will act now! World football’s governing body announced Friday the creation of an oversight body with independent members to monitor the systems in place to ensure ‘decent working conditions’ at World Cup stadiums. The composition of this new body, which will be led by FIFA, will include ‘relevant sectors of civil society’ and other relevant Fifa stakeholders to oversee all FIFA competitions.
‘The announcement by President Gianni Infantino shows that FIFA is beginning to take responsibility for those whose work is essential to the holding of the 2022 event’, declares International Trade Union Confederation.
“This could be an important step forward to ending the abuse of Qatar’s migrant workforce as the pace of construction accelerates to meet the 2022 deadline.  The April 14 report by Human Rights expert Professor John Ruggie set out FIFA’s responsibilities, and the composition, objectives and activities of this oversight body need to fully reflect Professor Ruggie’s recommendations.  In particular, it needs to recognise that many more workers are engaged in delivering the World Cup than those working only inside the stadium gates, and that until the government reforms its medieval labour laws, the companies and bodies responsible for delivering the World Cup can and must do what is needed to respect workers’ rights throughout their operations,” Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, says.
In the meantime migrant workers are dying in the desert. According to the International Trade Union Confederation at least 7,000 of the workers in Qatar will die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup. 1.8 million migrant workers are busy preparing the World Cup 22.
Will FIFA stop human suffering caused by the beautiful game – or will FIFA merely kick the ball down the field?






Every worker who spoke to Amnesty International reported abuse, including:

Squalid and cramped accommodation.

Paying large fees to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar.

Being deceived as to the pay or type of work on offer.

Not being paid for several months.

Employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving them at risk of detention and deportation.

Employers confiscating workers passports and not issuing exit permits so they could not leave the country.

Being threatened for complaining about their conditions.


Harvard professor John G. Ruggie has presented 25 detailed recommendations for FIFA to act on human rights issues. They fall broadly under three areas of necessary change:

From Constitution to Culture: FIFA needs to translate its commitment to respect human rights, included in its new Statutes, into its daily actions and decisions.

This includes: Setting clear expectations for the work of all parts of the administration and equipping and resourcing staff to deliver; Ensuring that these efforts are fully reflected in and supported by decision-making on the part of FIFA’s leadership and governing bodies.

From Reactive to Proactive: FIFA needs stronger internal systems to address the increasingly predictable human rights risks associated with its business.

This includes: Evaluating the severity of risks to people across both its activities and its relationships; Building and using its leverage to address these risks as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests.

From Insular to Accountable: FIFA needs to provide greater transparency in managing human rights risks and improve access to remedy.

This includes: Routinely discussing key issues with external stakeholders, including those whose human rights are at risk, and disclosing its efforts and progress in addressing challenges; Ensuring that access to remedy for human rights harm associated with FIFA is available not only on paper but also in practice.


The ugly side of the beautiful game, Amnesty International, April 2016.

For the game. For the World. FIFA & Human Rights, John G. Ruggie, Harvard University, April 2016.