Leading human rights activist group Human Rights Watch has accused FIFA of ignoring its own rules in the process of awarding hosting duties for the 2030 and 2034 World Cup tournaments.
Spain, Morocco, and Portugal were announced as the hosts-in-waiting for the 2030 iteration of the tournament, with three one-off games set to be hosted in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay at the start of the competition in a nod to the contest’s centenary.
FIFA has given the hybrid bid their support in principle in a bid to avoid a drawn-out bidding process, and the decision will be confirmed at the 2024 FIFA Congress.
Upon the announcement of the 2030 hosts, FIFA also stressed that the host for the 2034 tournament would be a nation from Asia or Oceania’s federations in a move that was seen as teeing up Saudi Arabia’s bid.
Australia was expected to challenge the Kingdom for the role, but on Tuesday, Football Australia announced that it had decided against registering a bid.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that the organisation would hand support in principle to the Morocco-Spain-Portugal bid in October
Infantino travelled to Riyadh last week for the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Esports World Cup (centre, seated next to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman)
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By making Saudi effectively hosts-elect eleven years ahead of the tournament, Human Rights Watch has argued that the process for choosing future World Cup competitions has breached their 2017 FIFA Human Rights Policy.
The organisation cited Article Seven which highlights: ‘where the national context risks undermining FIFA’s ability to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights, FIFA will constructively engage with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities’.
Human Rights Watch also cited the organisation’s ‘Key Principles of the Reformed Bidding Process’, which was inacted following confirmation of the 2026 hosts North America.
Their introduction states that hosts must ‘formally commit to conducting their activities based on sustainable event management principles and to respecting international human rights and labour standards according to the United Nations’ Guiding Principles.’
The non-governmental organisation stressed that FIFA had ‘failed to apply these principles’ and that the ‘unreasonably tight deadline’ for submitting bids for the 2034 World Cup is cause for further concern.
After announcing the 2030 hosts at the start of the month, FIFA asked those nations interested in the 2034 bid to submit their intention to bid by October 31.
Saudi Arabia tendered a formal letter of intent just days after Spain, Morocco, and Portugal’s successful bid was accepted.
The Kingdom’s human rights record was called into question in Human Rights Watch’s statement, which outlined how the country’s record has ‘deteriorated’ following the ascension of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The Gulf state severely restricts the rights of LGTQ+ people and women – under the male guardianship system – as well as those of the press, and the freedom of speech of its citizens.
The country has also come under scrutiny for its mass executions: on March 12 2022, 81 people were forcibly killed for terror offenses in the biggest mass execution in the nation’s history.
Human Rights Watch’s director of global initiatives Minky Worden added: ‘In Saudi Arabia, independent human rights monitoring is not possible due to government repression. This makes it effectively impossible for FIFA to carry out the ongoing monitoring and inspection of human rights its human rights policy requires.’
FIFA’s head Gianni Infantino is thought to have a good relationship with the Crown Prince, and last week attended the launch of an inaugural Esports World Cup in the kingdom as Saudi Arabia continues its robust sports and entertainment agenda.
The president has come under fire for breaching this own organisation’s human rights policies
FIFA previously confirmed two hosts simultaneously with the success of Russia’s 2018 bid (pictured with Vladimir Putin, right) and 2022 Qatar World Cup
Last year’s tournament received heightened scrutiny due to the country’s human rights record
The Kingdom played host to the high-profile ‘Battle of the Baddest’ fight between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou over the weekend to launch Riyadh Season – an entertainment festival – and is widely expected to host Fury’s upcoming clash with Oleksandr Usyk.
They have also bought into Premier League side Newcastle via their sovereign wealth fund PIF, as well as the top four sides in the Saudi Pro League, and will host FIFA’s 2023 Club World Cup.
A bid for the 2035 Women’s World Cup – on the heels of both the men’s competition and the 2026 AFC Women’s Asia Cup – has been mulled, but met with immediate criticism due to their stance on LGBTQ+ rights.
The last time that two World Cup competitions were awarded simultaneously came in 2010, with the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively – both of whom were widely critcised for their own human rights records in advance of, during, and after the contests.
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