Sports | Working to protect human rights defenders in football

By Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity, FIFA. ISHR has also commissioned an opinion by Minky Worden, Director of Global initiatives at Human Rights Watch which is available here.

On 29 May, FIFA enhanced its efforts to respect and help protect human rights defenders through the launch of a dedicated complaints mechanism and a policy statement on human rights defenders and media representatives.

Football is known as ‘the beautiful game’. And indeed, football touches the lives of millions of people all over the world and is a unifying force that can promote values such as equality and fairness and strengthen social bonds among people and countries. FIFA, as the international football federation with its 211 national member associations, is at the center of this global movement, governing association football around the world and organising its major global competitions.

It is an unfortunate fact of human interaction that such far-reaching global activities involve risks to human rights. FIFA fully recognises the responsibilities that come with the great impact of its activities and human rights risks associated with them. The organisation has therefore over the past years continuously strengthened and systematised its work to ensure respect for human rights throughout its operations, in accordance with its responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and as outlined in FIFA’s Human Rights Policy.    

The important work of human rights defenders

The work of human rights defenders is essential for FIFA’s human rights-related efforts to succeed. This is not a mere slogan but grounded in the experience of countless concrete examples of our work over the past years. Human rights defenders bring to our attention specific human rights risks and inform the evaluation of the effectiveness of measures taken, they act as legitimate representatives of people and groups who may be affected by FIFA’s activities, or they are an additional source of scrutiny on third parties whose actions may have an adverse impact on human rights and be related to those activities.

FIFA has therefore highlighted the important role of human rights defenders in its human rights policy that was adopted by the FIFA Council in May 2017. The policy states in paragraph 11 that:

“FIFA helps protectthose who advocate respect for human rights associated with its activities … [and] will respect and not interfere with the work of both human rights defenders who voice concerns about adverse human rights impacts relating to FIFA and media representatives covering FIFA’s events and activities. Where the freedoms of human rights defenders and media representatives are at risk, FIFA will take adequate measures for their protection including by using its leverage with the relevant authorities.”

In that respect, FIFA has over the past years implemented a variety of steps. Such measures include, for instance, the guarantee of freedom of the press through its own media accreditation processes, FIFA’s intervention on specific cases brought to its attention, and the inclusion of requirements related to human rights defenders and freedom of the press in the new bidding and hosting requirements for FIFA tournaments, including for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The new complaints mechanism and policy statement

The newly launched complaints mechanism and policy statement are important milestones to better define and enhance FIFA’s efforts in view of respecting and helping to protect the rights of human rights defenders. Both the complaints mechanism and the statement are the result of a nearly one-year process and comprise input from a range of stakeholders and expert organisations, including from the FIFA Human Rights Advisory Board.

The complaints mechanism applies to human rights defenders and media representatives who consider their rights to have been violated while performing work in relation to FIFA’s activities. It is a web-based mechanism hosted by a specialised provider. It allows for anonymous reporting, follows the highest standards of data privacy and security and is available in English, French, Spanish and German. Human rights defenders and media representatives who for some reason will not be able to send a complaint through the dedicated mechanism can use the email address [email protected]to inform FIFA about a complaint.

The policy statement specifies the pre-existing commitment to respect and help protect the rights of human rights defenders and media representatives as outlined in paragraph 11 of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy. FIFA will respond to possible complaints submitted through the mechanism in accordance with those commitments.

We were pleased to see the positive resonance of these recent steps, including in form of a joint statementby the UN Working Group on business and human rights and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. At the same time, and as highlighted in the statement, we are fully aware that the implementation of these commitments requires ongoing efforts and continuous improvement of our processes and systems in place. As we continue on that journey, we look forward to further engagement with human rights defenders and other stakeholders along the way.

Photo: FIFA


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