By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – World soccer’s ruling body FIFA, stung by criticism that it overlooks human rights in countries staging its tournaments, has set up an advisory panel to address the issue.
South Africa and Brazil, which hosted the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, were criticized over alleged human rights violations while there are also concerns about Russia and Qatar which are staging the next two global showpiece tournaments.
In particular, the plight of migrants in 2022 hosts Qatar has alarmed human rights and labor organizations.
FIFA said the new panel will meet for the first time on Monday, “providing FIFA with advice on all issues that the board members may consider relevant for the implementation of FIFA’s human rights responsibilities”.
Issues on which the panel could provide advice include labor standards, health and safety, property rights, security, discrimination and freedom of expression.
“It is the first advisory board of its kind for any sports federation, and we look forward to the pioneering work we will jointly undertake,” FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said in a statement.
The panel will include representatives from FIFA sponsors Adidas and Coca-Cola, corruption watchdog Transparency International, the United Nations (UN) and the world players’ organization FIFPro.
“Football has a huge global following, cutting across all social boundaries,” said panel member Lene Wendland, UN advisor on business and human rights.
“There is therefore huge potential for FIFA to play a dynamic role in standing up for human rights.”
Amnesty International reported an increase in police harassment of informal traders, homeless South Africans, and refugees and migrants living in shelters or inner-city areas before the 2010 tournament.
Meanwhile, human rights groups condemned the detention of protesters, including lawyers and professors, in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo during the 2014 tournament, and evictions of slum residents related to building work in the run-up.
Russia, the host of next year’s World Cup, has been frequently criticized for its record on racism in soccer and its treatment of gay people.
Qatar has faced criticism of its treatment of foreign workers from Amnesty International, the Building and Wood Workers’ International organization and others.
The Qatari government introduced a new law in December which it said would replace the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system that forces foreign workers to seek their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)