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January 22, 2018 

Mr. Gianni Infantino
President, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
FIFA-Strasse 20 P.O. Box 8044 Zurich, Switzerland 

Re: Egypt’s hosting of 2019 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations and FIFA’s Human Rights Policy  

Dear President Infantino,  

We are writing to urge you to use FIFA’s leverage with the Egyptian authorities to push back against a vicious anti-gay campaign which could compromise the safety of athletes and spectators attending the 2019 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations which Egypt will host.  

In Egypt, since September 22, security forces have relentlessly tracked down and arrested scores of allegedly gay and transgender people, as well as those who support them, after several young people waved rainbow flags, a symbol of diversity and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. 

By November 27, the crackdown had led to the arrest of at least 75 people. More than 40 have already received prison sentences, ranging from 6 months to 6 years, under the bogus charges of “debauchery” and “inciting debauchery.” Some of the individuals arrested were subject to ill-treatment and torture, including forced anal examinations to attempt to prove that they had engaged in same-sex conduct. Activists have received death threats and endured beatings and sexual harassment in police stations from other detainees. 

On November 6, the Legislative Committee in the Egyptian Parliament began studying a draft law to criminalize not only homosexuality but also anyone who carries “any symbol or code for homosexuals,” such as rainbows. Such conducts would be punishable by up to three years of prison. 

FIFA’s own Statutes (art 4) ban discrimination and its new Human Rights Policy states that “FIFA will strive to go beyond its responsibility to respect human rights, as enshrined in the UNGPs [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights], by taking measures to promote the protection of human rights and positively contribute to their enjoyment.”  

In the spirit of these statutes, we urge you to reach out to the Egyptian President and authorities to express your concerns about this campaign

and the proposed anti-LGBT law. You should make clear that the current climate would appear to make it impossible for FIFA to ensure the safety of athletes, coaches, families, fans or reporters attending the U-23 Cup of Nations, who could face arrest or harassment for looking gay or gender non-conforming; for using gay dating apps while in Egypt (which the police use to entrap people and charge them with inciting debauchery); for waving rainbow flags or wearing pro-LGBT t-shirts or displaying other “homosexual symbols” during the tournament; or for simply expressing support for the rights of LGBT people. You should ask for a public commitment from the Egyptian authorities that no one attending the event will experience discrimination by police and other state agents on any grounds, including sexual orientation or gender identity. You should also warn Egyptian authorities that the adoption of the draft law and continuation of the current campaign of arrests would be taken into consideration in determining if Egypt is suitable for hosting any future FIFA event.  

A personal and vigorous intervention on your behalf seems critical to ensure that FIFA’s U-23 Cup of Nations is free of harassment and discrimination. Should the Egyptian authorities refuse to publicly guarantee that no LGBT person attending the event will experience official discrimination of any type, FIFA should publicly affirm its commitment to LGBT fans and athletes and keep all options on the table with regard to the U-23 Cup of Nations.  

We believe that by taking these measures, you would demonstrate FIFA’s commitment to its new Human Rights Policy and turn words into deeds – something that we could all cheer.    

Since this repressive wave of arrests is on-going – with the latest arrests of ten people in Alexandria last week – we are requesting an urgent call to discuss with your human rights team as soon as possible.   


Minky Worden
Global Initiatives
Human Rights Watch

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa
Human Rights Watch

CC: FIFA Human Rights Advisory board, via chair Rachel Davis  

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