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7th Dec, 2022

World Cup highlights FIFA's many flaws

From Infantino’s insulting monologue to the mixed messages sent out on inclusion, Qatar 2022 has been a bewildering spectacle. Our Vice Chair Chris Paouros is urging the football family to focus on FIFA’s failings - and sign a petition that calls for an overhaul.

I wrote before the World Cup kicked off about an optimistic view many of us once shared about inclusion, FIFA, and the Supreme Committee - the organisers of Qatar 2022.

“The hope… has always been that over time, and with guidance from FIFA, Qatari officials might grow in confidence when talking about this area of diversity.” I was referring to how issues of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination would be addressed at the tournament - but I knew that the signs were far from promising.

Repeating the mantra that “everyone is welcome” would be nowhere near enough and so it has proved, with multiple incidents of fans having rainbow-adorned items seized at stadiums, homophobic cartoons and columns in regional media, and an almighty row over a ‘OneLove’ armband that was wilfully misinterpreted as being divisive.

I can’t help but feel that the tone for all this was set by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in his already infamous press conference diatribe, in which he claimed empathy with just about everyone who might have ever been discriminated against.

As the tournament has progressed, we’ve witnessed FIFA stumbling time and time again. Its ambition of creating a “barrier-free” World Cup has certainly not been realised.

It’s asking a lot from the game itself to somehow guide us to a promised land of gender equity, zero discrimination and good governance. That’s not realistic, but what is certainly achievable is an overhaul at FIFA that delivers a fairer structure for the whole football family and avoids a repeat of the discord and divergence from values that we have witnessed in the last few weeks.

It's why I’ve launched a petition on that, at the time of writing, has gathered over 112,000 signatures. I highlight how FIFA has failed to adequately address the many human rights issues around this World Cup - the deaths of migrant workers, the limitations on women’s rights, the criminalisation of the LGBTQ+ community - and I ask for people to join me in recognising the “urgent need for overhaul.”

My Kick It Out colleagues share this view and we have earmarked four areas for reform that we believe should be acknowledged as soon as possible.

Firstly, FIFA’s decision-making processes must be transparent and incorporate protections for fundamental human rights.

It has been reported this week that FIFA is refusing to set up a compensation fund for migrant workers who have suffered abuses while working on World Cup infrastructure. Instead, it will leave claims to the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund that was established by the Qatari government in 2018.

This news follows on from the recent comment by World Cup boss Hassan al-Thawadi that “400 to 500” workers have died on projects related to the tournament. This figure is much higher than previous estimates given by anyone involved with Qatar 2022, but the actual number of deaths could be in the thousands, while many more workers have suffered injuries. All have been severely underpaid.

Going forwards, human rights must be central to not only how tournament hosts are selected but also to the anti-discrimination commitments.

Secondly, FIFA requires diverse representation amongst its senior leadership, to better inform key decisions around future events.

Back in 2016, when FIFA’s old Executive Committee was disbanded, six of the 37 seats on the new FIFA Council were reserved for women.

This was seen as a significant step forward at the time - but six years on, with the women’s game now on an inexorable rise, that under-representation looks stark. Meanwhile, FIFA states that its workforce includes 42% female representation, yet does not state whether this is reflected at a senior level - and it’s safe to assume it isn’t.

Thirdly, FIFA needs to have inclusion-related risk assessment protocols in place for players, staff and supporters around all international fixtures and tournaments.

In this World Cup alone, the U-turns and last-minute decisions have had real consequences on fans and member associations alike. One supporter was even reportedly strip searched  and detained for wearing rainbow colours while trying to enter a stadium.

All this has occurred amid increasing talk of Saudi Arabia and Egypt being part of a joint bid for the 2030 men’s tournament.

These two nations are ranked in the bottom 10% of both the Human Freedom Index and the Press Freedom Index - considerably lower even than Qatar - and the question must be asked as to how either could deliver "an explicit public commitment to respect all internationally recognised human rights", something that is now required from every prospective host under FIFA bidding process rules, as I mentioned in my previous blog.

Finally, there must be clear and effective sanctions for incidents of discrimination.

It’s been almost lost amid all the other controversies, but FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against various teams at the World Cup – including two separate investigations against Mexico for anti-gay chants from its supporters during games.

Serbia also face a discrimination charge following the defeat by Switzerland, as do Uruguay and Croatia.

There continues to be a lack of consistency and transparency in dealing with all such cases and it is long overdue that this system is properly clarified.


So to echo Infantino - which world are we are going to? 

One that’s committed to fairness, and in which all minority groups are represented in decision-making functions?

One in which everybody’s human rights and freedom of expression are taken into consideration?

The benefits of taking this route go far beyond just gender equity and would warrant more than just a feeling for Infantino. We could start to bring respect back to world football - and a sense of shared direction too.

Sign the petition here.