FIFA must put human rights at the heart of any decision to increase the number of Middle East countries hosting the 2022 World Cup, leading global pressure groups urged. In an open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, the groups say he should state publicly that human rights would be a consideration if the sport's governing body increases the number of teams from 32 to 48."Given the possibility that an enlarged 2022 World Cup could potentially require additional countries to host the tournament, we remind FIFA of the commitment it has made to enshrine human rights, transparency and sustainability... in its bidding process," reads the letter."As such we call on you (Infantino) to publicly confirm that any assessments of potential co-hosts for 2022 would follow a process that includes these criteria."
The letter is signed by Amnesty International, Football Supporters Europe, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, ITUC, Transparency International, the UNI Global Union and the World Players' Association. It has been sent ahead of this week's FIFA council meeting in Miami.
On the agenda is the proposal to expand team numbers in 2022 which, in all likelihood, would mean tiny Qatar, which has championed the compact nature of its event, having to share matches with neighbouring nations. However, this is complicated by the fact that the super-wealthy gas-rich state is locked in a diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
With those two countries seemingly out of the picture, it was reported last week that FIFA was considering using Kuwait and Oman to host matches in 2022 in the event of a 48-team World Cup. Despite this week's meeting, FIFA is not expected to make a decision until later this year.
Amnesty's Steve Cockburn said there were "clear human rights risks" associated with any expansion of the 2022 tournament, the first to be played in the Middle East. Since being controversially chosen as host in 2010, Qatar has come under intense pressure on human rights, especially with regard to the rights of workers building World Cup stadia and infrastructure.
In May 2017, FIFA published a human rights policy, in part due to the fallout over its decision to select Qatar as 2022 hosts. The World Cup will definitely become a 48-team tournament from 2026, when it will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.