Human Rights Index #44: World Sports

TIR staff

The Human Rights Index is prepared three times a year by the University of Iowa Center for Human RightsThe Iowa Review is proud to feature the Index on our website, to suggest the global political and socioeconomic context within which we read and write.

Human Rights Index #44

Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) corruption scandal of 2015 rocked the highest levels of soccer’s international governing body, thrusting the international sports community into the human rights spotlight once again. This renewed attention to the human rights impacts of major international sports events was not surprising. In recent years, the Olympics, World Cup, and other such competitions have been accompanied too regularly by severe human rights abuses, often perpetrated by the host country, particularly during preparations for the event. But human rights issues that arise in these settings stretch far beyond acts committed in the preparatory stages. Gender discrimination and consequent inequality is found both in the lead up to, and administration of, the games and in the games themselves. Corruption, too, is a major concern, especially recently, in the corrosive bidding process to host the event and in the favoritism manifest in supportive government allocations. Racism, anti-semitism, and homophobia, even among the international sporting fans, regularly emerge as newsworthy headlines. And never to be overlooked, but typically accepted as “unfortunate” but beyond the capacity of international sporting administrations to effect, are the domestic policies and practices of the host states that not infrequently violate some of the most fundamental of international human rights law doctrines, principles, and rules. While the purchase of soccer balls made by child labor has greatly subsided in recent times, workers generally and even competitors continue to be abused, often severely and with the tacit approval or at least tolerance of such major international sports organizations as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee in the interest of sports profiteering as well as athletic achievement. 

1 — Number of weeks before Germany was chosen to host the 2006 World Cup that Germany, under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, lifted its arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and agreed to send grenade launchers to that country, an act widely understood to have been in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s vote for Germany as World Cup host (Die Zeit 2015: UICHR translation)

2 — Millions of dollars awarded the 2015 Women’s World Cup champion (USA) in stark contrast to the US$35 million awarded the 2014 Men’s World Cup champion (Germany), a gender inequality manifest even among teams eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup games, with 16 of the men’s losing teams each earning US$8 million or four times more than the championship women—not counting the U.S men's team, which finished 11th, winning US$9 million.             

11 — Number of foreign laborers in 2022 World Cup host-designate Qatar witnessed signing official documents falsely asserting receipt of payment for their services as a condition of the return of their passports enabling them to leave the country, presumably to return home (Amnesty International 2013)         

14 — Number of FIFA officials and corporate executives indicted in 2015 as part of a U.S. corruption investigation into soccer’s global governing body (U.S. Department of Justice 2015)        

30–40 — Percentage increase in the risk of child exploitation when, during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, child prostitutes could be purchased for as little as US$2 each (Huffington Post 2014) 

50 — Percent of the 2014 Sochi Olympics budget attributed to corruption, totaling more than US$25 billion―in contrast to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver costing but US$8 billion (Yahoo!Sports 2013) 

60 — Number of female soccer stars worldwide joined in a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association protesting plans to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf rather than natural grass, a surface never used in the previous twenty Men’s World Cups and not planned for either of the next two already scheduled (Sports Illustrated 2014)

84 — Number of workweek hours required of some foreign manual laborers working on the construction of soccer stadiums in Qatar in anticipation of the 2022 World Cup (Amnesty International 2013)

111 — Number of individuals discovered working under slavelike conditions in 2013 as part of the Sao Paulo area Guarulhos Airport expansion in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (The Guardian 2014)

1,200 — Number of migrant workers who have died in Qatar since 2010 due to hazardous working conditions at sites planned for the 2022 World Cup (Mother Jones 2015)

4,000 — Number of workers projected to die constructing stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (International Trade Union Confederation 2014)            

7,133 — Number of workplace accidents (including loss of life) that occurred in Sao Paulo from the construction of World Cup stadiums in 2013 while preparing for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, up from 1,386 in 2012 (Al Jazeera 2014)

33,000 — Number of migrant workers allegedly forced to run a marathon in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, in an effort to break the world record for the largest marathon, a race that took place in 84-degree heat (Fahrenheit), forcing many of the competitors to run in jeans, sandals, or barefoot (Yahoo!Sports 2015)

200,000— Number of persons forcibly evicted from their homes in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil, amounting to roughly one in every 1,000 Brazilians (Conectas Human Rights 2013) 

750,000 — Number of allegedly embezzled U.S. dollars donated by FIFA and the Korean Football Association to victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake but for which former FIFA Vice President Austin “Jack” Warner, a Haitian businessman and football executive, was indicted by the United States and later forced to resign from all his positions in international football (BBC 2015, Wikipedia 2015)

1,500,000 — Number of people displaced in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, sometimes through unannounced night raids and without adequate compensation or due process (Institute for Human Rights and Business 2013)

150,000,000 — Number of U.S. dollars allegedly taken in bribes and kickbacks over more than 20 years in the ongoing U.S. FIFA corruption case (U.S. Department of Justice 2015)

*Copyright © 2015 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Zachary Nichols along with Zachary Heffernen, Alice Pan, Deanna Steinbach, Haoyuan Song, and Chenhao Zhang, all students or former students at the UI College of Law. For additional facts concerning world sports and human rights and further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site: