World Cup Fiascos Might Prove a Human Rights Win

Ed note. I’m pleased to welcome Lianet Vazquez to UN Dispatch. Lianet Vazquez is a Master’s candidate at the Paris School of International Affairs and currently serves as a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the British American Security Information Council.  

The world tuned in last week for the inaugural match of the 2014 World Cup. But spectators from around the globe have also witnessed labor strikes and a general malaise in Brazil that may eclipse the joviality of the celebrations. After all, winning or losing, Brazil’s soccer team cannot fix the country’s economy.

“I want healthcare and education on FIFA’s standards” – a 2013 slogan read.

Brazilian children can’t eat a soccer ball – a 2014 mural showed.

“We made a mistake” – Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor announced.

Brazil’s current civil unrest might be symptomatic of a poorly designed FIFA bidding process to determine World Cup hosts. Restructuring such process might better pre-empt future human rights violations and related unrest by assessing the ability of potential hosts to cope with the economic stress vis-a-vis World Cup preparations, while heeding the social implications that might unravel as a result.

Social predictors back in 2007, the year when Brazil’s World-Cup bid was accepted, foreshadowed a sanguine explosion of a yellow and green extravaganza – the colors of the Brazilian flag. Yet, protests erupted last year at the sight of obscene government spending ($11.5 billion) in World Cup infrastructure, while raising taxes, transportation fares, and seemingly neglecting social programs. Most of the stadiums, including the World Cup opener stadium in Sao Paulo have not yet been finished, while the national atmosphere seems less vibrant than is characteristic of Brazilian soccer enthusiasts. In the meantime, favela residents reprimand their government for poor access to basic human necessities such as healthcare and education.

Brazil is not the only country grappling with controversy over embracing its World Cup bid, at the expense of ensuring basic human rights standards. Qatar has also come under international scrutiny due to flagrant abuses of migrant workers, who have died by the hundreds in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, to be hosted in the country. Amnesty International accused the Gulf emirate of perpetuating less than subpar labor conditions for its 1.4 million migrant workers, including a paucity of “adequate pay, comfortable sleeping quarters and the ability to change employers or even leave the country.”

Global outcry over Qatar’s human rights abuses has made FIFA – the world’s soccer management giant – desire to “factor in human rights record when choosing World Cup hosts.” Corruption allegations, if true, are likely to embitter the credibility of future bidding processes. But raising a country’s human rights record as a possible determinant of eligibility might be the harbinger of a more conscious and transparent modus operandi, that would likely avoid related civil unrest in the future. So far, the World Cup has inspired unrest and human rights abuses in some of its host countries. But if FIFA should implement human rights standards to its host selection process then maybe future World Cups become more joyous experiences for fans and host country residents alike.


Image credit: Paulo Ito/Facebook