Opportunity knocks for FIFA

15 April 2016 Comments 0

I was pleased to read the report on FIFA and Human Rights from Professor John G Ruggie of Harvard University.

Like many, I was a little cynical when FIFA appointed Professor Ruggie – despite his pre-eminence in the field – to advise them on human rights issues. After all, FIFA has a history of appointing other experts who are largely ignored (Pieth); required to comply with the corporate narrative (Garcia/Eckert); or who leave in frustration at banging their heads against a brick wall (Wrage).

Ruggie sets out what needs to be done under “three areas of necessary change”:

  1. Importantly, translating FIFA’s stated ‘commitment’ to human rights into actions and decisions;
  2. Improved risk management systems internally in respect of human rights; and
  3. Wait for it as these words may sound familiar – improved transparency and accountability on human rights.

In other words, FIFA needs to do more than just talk about commitment, respect and all those nice-sounding words, but also put them into practice and embed it into the culture of football worldwide – something that is the case in many areas of FIFA’s operations.

‘Transparency’, ‘Accountability’ and ‘Culture’ are three of the key words #NewFIFANow and others have been talking about in respect of FIFA for some time. (And I might add, when we talk of ‘FIFA’, it’s not just the building and people in Zurich, but about the big, wide ‘football family’ around the world, as the arrests and attention of the authorities show).

Professor Ruggie has provided 25 recommendations including the implicit identification and assessment of risks associated with FIFA’s activities and business relationships. In what may be a difficult pill to swallow for some, Ruggie says that “credible proxies … such as civil society organisations, international trade union federations …” and others should be used to engage with people who are impacted by FIFA’s decisions. He also says that where FIFA is not able to reduce the impact of significant human rights abuses, the relationship should be terminated, and that Local Organising Committees should establish a complaints mechanism.

It’s good stuff. It is also encouraging that Professor Ruggie found a genuine commitment amongst FIFA staff to using football’s soft power to good effect. Some of it will be simple to implement and can be done relatively quickly. Some of it is challenging for FIFA, football worldwide, Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.

But it’s also a great opportunity for FIFA / football to prove that they understand not only do we want change, but they must change.

I am proud of SKINS’ involvement with the ITUC, Playfair Qatar and #NewFIFANow in putting pressure on FIFA’s sponsors through the ‘Hypocrisy World Cup’ campaign that we launched prior to the FIFA Presidential election last year. Our ‘call to arms’ to the football community to email or tweet FIFA sponsors and football associations had an impact. I can reveal that I had several meetings with FIFA sponsors last year as part of this campaign, and I know that our work was an important part of the pressure placed on FIFA by sponsors such as Coca-Cola, VISA, McDonald’s and Budweiser in particular.

As my compatriot, friend and co-campaigner, Sharan Burrow, Secretary-General of the International Trade Union Confederation writes here, the Ruggie Report could change everything. Or it could not.

Over to you FIFA.