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Will Qatar World Cup Expansion Meet FIFA Rights Standards?

In Kuwait and Oman, Migrant Workers and Transgender Rights at Stake

Workers at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, ahead of the 2022 World Cup, October 31, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

The international football governing body, FIFA, is meeting this week to discuss expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to a second Gulf country to accommodate additional teams – with Kuwait or Oman as leading contenders, each hardly paragons of virtue from a human rights perspective.

Eight years after it won the bid to host the World Cup, Qatar’s human rights record is still of concern. Pulling off a rights-respecting World Cup in either Kuwait or Oman would require surmounting high hurdles. Like in Qatar, migrant workers – who would play a key role in any new construction – remain vulnerable to abuse in these countries. Human Rights Watch has also documented serious abuse of migrant domestic workers in Kuwait and Oman.

All three countries criminalize same-sex conduct and zina (sex outside marriage). And on transgender rights, Kuwait and Oman are extreme outliers. Their laws, actively enforced, provide for up to a year in prison for “imitating the opposite sex”– an express prohibition on any form of non-normative gender expression. In Kuwait, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of arbitrary arrests of transgender people, often accompanied by degrading treatment and torture. Absent repeal of these laws – which violate rights to non-discrimination, equality before the law, free expression, personal autonomy, physical integrity, and privacy – World Cup matches would be completely inaccessible to transgender people.

Both possess a troubling record on free speech rights; scores of individuals have run afoul of laws that criminalize peaceful criticism, including receiving prison sentences.

All of this is hard to square with FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, which commits it to respecting all international recognized human rights, and its bidding guidelines, which require hosts to ensure “zero tolerance for discrimination.”

In response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and five other Sport and Rights Alliance organizations raising concerns about whether FIFA’s Human Rights Policy would be respected in expanding to an additional host in the Gulf, FIFA stated its commitment to human rights is “unequivocal and integrated in the hosting requirements of all our future tournaments …. [T]his would not be different in the case of a potential co-host already in 2022."

If FIFA is serious about its human rights commitment, the raft of current and potential abuses in Kuwait and Oman should provoke tough discussions about whether and how these hosts could meet FIFA’s strong new rights standards.

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