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A Reflection on the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands and works as Research Officer for the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


On November 26th, the Human Rights Advisory Board[1] of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) published its second report. This blog provides a summary and brief evaluation of the report, by drawing a comparison to the previous report issued by the Human Rights Advisory Board (hereinafter: the Board) based on the content of the recommendations and FIFA’s efforts to implement the Board’s recommendations. The third part of this blog briefly reflects on the broader implications of some of the new recommendations issued for FIFA’s internal policies. The conclusion provides five more general points of observation on the report.

Old and New Recommendations

In its second report, the Board makes 30 ‘specific recommendations’ to FIFA, just slightly less than the previous one. However, not all of these recommendations are new to FIFA. A number of them have been released in the two update statements the Board released since the publication of its first report, one in May 2018 and one in October 2018. Two more sets of recommendations were communicated to FIFA in December 2017 and February 2018, which are as well included in this new report, but which have not been reported publicly before.

Content-wise, most of the recommendations still deal with the human rights risks associated with FIFA’s upcoming and past events. The recommendations made with regard to the human rights issues surrounding the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia have been issued in December 2017 and concern the general situation and human rights of construction workers, human rights defenders and media representatives, mostly recommending that FIFA should use its leverage to address these issues with the government or other relevant stakeholders, such as the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). Another December-recommendation concerned the sharing of measures taken by FIFA to investigate the involvement of Russia football players in the Russian doping scandal. Furthermore, the report includes the Board’s recommendations regarding the controversies surrounding the choice of accommodation of the Egyptian national team[2], which had been addressed in a set of recommendations initially issued in February 2018[AD1] . With regard to the human rights requirements for hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the report repeats the recommendation issued in May 2018, concerning FIFA’s task to take into account the capacity of bidders to assess and manage human rights risks when deciding for a host. On this issue, the report also introduces a new recommendation for FIFA to reflect on the inclusion of human rights into the bidding requirements. Furthermore, the report also includes ‘interim recommendations’ in relation to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and disclosed that a more detailed set of recommendations can be expected shortly.[3]

While these issues were already present in the first report, four new issues have been added in this second report by the Board:

  • player’s rights,
  • child safeguarding,
  • the ban on woman attending sport matches in Iran,
  • and FIFA’s approach to engagement and communication on human rights.[4]

With regard to player’s rights, the Board’s recommendations focus on access to remedy and FIFA’s evaluation of existing football arbitration mechanisms from a human rights perspective, the rules of the employment market for players and FIFA’s review of these rules, and on FIFA’s regulations on player’s rights which need to take the specific situation of children into account. Concerning child safeguarding, the Board recommends that FIFA’s safeguarding working group should conduct a comprehensive stakeholder consultation to identify the responsibilities of member associations concerning child players. Regarding the issue of discrimination against women in Iran, the Board recommends for FIFA to use its leverage on the Iranian Association and to issue sanctions if nothing is changing. Finally, on FIFA’s approach to engagement and communication on human rights issues, the Board recommends that FIFA establishes a systematic annual dialogue with key stakeholders, in addition to individual and event-specific stakeholder engagement and that it adopts a transparent approach on negative impacts connected to FIFA’s activities. Furthermore, the Board calls on FIFA to communicate this approach and share relevant information with confederations and member associations.

What also changed in the second report is that the Board does not issue requests to FIFA anymore. All measures proposed are formulated as recommendations. However, it is questionable to what extent the requests entailed in the first report really made a difference, since the majority of these requests were merely inquiries for more information or clarifications on certain issues.[5] Such requests about additional information or more transparency on certain issues are now included in the recommendations, such as in recommendation R42, asking FIFA to “be as transparent as possible” and to “proactively publish the steps it has taken”.[6] 

The New Tracking System

The second report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board is not only longer in terms of page numbers  but it also provides more detailed insights into human rights-related efforts FIFA undertook in the past year and continues to undertake, based on the recommendations it received. While in the first report, ‘part B’ consisted of a general overview of FIFA’s human rights efforts up to that point in time, ‘part B’ in the new report lists concrete measures taken by FIFA in reaction to the recommendations issued by the Board in its first report and other recommendations statements made in the past year. To assess these measures, the second report introduces a tracking system, which ranks the status of FIFA’s implementation of the Board’s recommendations from 1 to 4, moving from no implementation (1), to ongoing implementation (2), to advanced implementation (3), and to full or “closed out” implementation (4).[7]

There is only one recommendation for which implementation has not yet started (category 1) according to the Board. This concerns the promotion of a policy with host countries of direct employment of construction workers to prevent the strong reliance on subcontractors, which involves greater risks for workers and migrant workers in particular.[8] Ongoing implementation (category 2) has been observed in relation to the embedding of human rights throughout the FIFA organisation, including relevant committees and key staff, as well as its member associations, the testing of the method of risk identification with informed stakeholders to confirm or challenge findings, and the joint inspections together with LOCs. Furthermore, the Board assessed that implementation is ongoing for three other recommendations: first, FIFA’s considerations on how it can make the most efficient use of its leverage when it comes to the issue of security arrangements linked to hosting a FIFA event; secondly, the publishing of information on the design, operation, and the results of the monitoring of construction sites; and thirdly, making prompt and factual statements to show awareness and knowledge about critical human rights issues when they arise. The Board found that FIFA made considerable advancement (category 3) in developing a system for risk identification,  such as monitoring systems or the detailed human rights salience analysis that is part of the Sustainability Strategy and policy of the 2022 World Cup, as well as in identifying risks to fundamental civil and political rights and communicating its expectation to respect these rights with host governments.

The adoption of a human rights policy has been assessed as fully implemented (category 4). The same evaluation has been made in relation to the recommendations for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, as well as for the bidding processes and the 2026 FIFA World Cup. However, even though the implementation efforts concerning these issues have been evaluated under the same category, taking a closer look reveals that the actual status of implementation is not the same. This is because category 4 combines two criteria, which in fact reflect very different results. ‘Full implementation’ does not necessarily reflect the same situation as ‘closed out implementation’. In other words, a reason for an implementation to end (‘close out’) is not necessarily linked to the fact that the recommended measure has been implemented in its entirety. In fact, full implementation of a certain measure can produce a completely different scenario than abandoning a certain recommendation or measure.

This can be illustrated by taking a closer look at the implementation of measures recommended to FIFA concerning the handling of human rights issues related to the 2018 World Cup. Most of them have been assessed as fully implemented or closed out, and so have the measures taken in relation to the 2022 World Cup. In reality, however, the 2018 World Cup lies in the past and the majority of measures taken in that context were discontinued before they could fully be implemented. For example, the recommendation on offering the Egyptian team an alternative location, including the financial support needed, has been evaluated as ‘closed out’, even though the Egyptian team in the end decided to stick with Grozny. The same can be said about the recommendation that FIFA should raise with the LOC that timely compensation is provided in case a worker on the World Cup construction sites got injured. Even though FIFA states that they did not have access to any financial records that would allow a verification of cash flows, the recommendation has been evaluated as “implemented/closed out”.[9] Due to this combination of two criteria under category 4, simply taking a look at the tabular overview provided at the end of the report[10] can create a distorted picture of the actual implementation status of the Board’s recommendations. Instead, a more careful look at FIFA’s actual efforts on certain issues is necessary to fully understand whether FIFA was indeed successful in implementing a certain recommendation, or whether it just dropped the implementation, for instance because it was linked to a certain event that is over now. 

The Implications for FIFA’s Internal Policies

Some of the recommendations included in the report relate to how FIFA embeds its human rights commitments internally and within its member associations. For instance, according to the Board FIFA should discuss with the Board the reasons for the decision of the Ethics Committee to not publish a detailed explanation of how it reached a decision in a case, and that it should review its operations in that regard.[11] In addition, it recommends FIFA to be explicit with its member associations on what it expects and in what timeframe it expects them to align with FIFA’s human rights responsibilities. The Board also implies that anticipated sanctions should be included in FIFA Statutes, the Disciplinary Code and the Ethics Code.[12]

Furthermore, the update statement by FIFA in this second report reveals that a number of measures were taken in relation to embedding human rights in its organization, based on previous recommendations made by the Board.  For instance, FIFA Council and Committee members have to follow an e-learning course, which includes a human rights module, and a human rights working group has been established within FIFA’s Governance Committee. However, implementation on those matters is ongoing and it becomes clear that this so far has not been the focus of FIFA’s human rights-related efforts and more could be done in that regard.[13] The context and overview FIFA provides on embedding the respect for human rights is rather vague and the measures taken so far do not reach the entire FIFA organization.[14]


A number of general observations can be made based on this summary and comparison. First, most recommendations and action taken by FIFA seem to concentrate on FIFA’s commitment to identify and address human rights risks, which actually was already the case in the first report. Secondly, while FIFA’s events still seem to be a priority, the Board focused also on new issues. Yet, perhaps not enough attention is dedicated to changing FIFA’s international structures and culture into a well-established acceptance and reflection of FIFA’s human rights responsibilities. Furthermore, the report provides valuable and detailed insight into the progress made and how it is made, for instance in relation to FIFA’s leverage over Qatar’s Supreme Committee and the Qatari government to change certain regulations, the human rights defender cases in which FIFA intervened, or the external partners FIFA worked with to address certain human rights risks.[15] Finally, it is a comprehensive report, reflecting the Board’s understanding towards FIFA’s burden of having to address issues of “the past, present and future all at once”, and the fact that “FIFA has to deal with the legacy of decisions taken and contracts signed before the organisation recognized its human rights responsibilities”.[16] This also shows that FIFA takes the Board seriously and in many ways follows the Board’s recommendations.

In general, the fact that FIFA has an active Human Rights Advisory Board in place for more than a year now and renewed its mandate until the end of 2020 should be applauded.[17] Just this month, the International Olympic Committee announced that it is also setting up a Human Rights Advisory Committee, which is supposed to be fully operational by the 2024 Olympic Games, unfortunately not in time for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

[1] The members of the board are listed in the annex of the first report.

[2] Egypt’s national team chose Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, as its training camp during the World Cup 2018. FIFA authorized this choice, despite the fact that the region’s human rights record is dominated by cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances and the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, is known for his repression of journalists, critics, minority groups, and human rights defenders.  

[3] See p.19 of the second report

[4] Ibid., p 20

[5] See p. 5, 7, or 11 of the first report

[6] See p. 15 of the second report

[7] See p. 5 of the second report

[8] See p. 60 of the second report

[9] See p. 48 of the second report

[10] Ibid. p. 80 ff.

[11] Ibid. p. 27

[12] Ibid. p. 25

[13] Ibid. p. 34 f.

[14] Ibid. p. 33 & 35

[15] Ibid. pp. 17-18, 67, & 69

[16] Ibid. p. 28

[17] Ibid. p. 79

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