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Fifa told to deny Saudi Arabia 2034 World Cup without rights reforms

  • Legal experts cite treatment of dissent, women and judiciary

  • Kingdom ‘in breach of Fifa’s own policies in several areas’

By Paul MacInnes

May 24, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Fifa must be prepared to deny Saudi Arabia the right to host the 2034 men’s World Cup if the kingdom fails to comply with human rights obligations, according to a new legal submission filed with the governing body.

Written by a team of legal experts that includes the British barrister Rodney Dixon KC, who represents the widow of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Professor Mark Pieth, who previously advised Fifa on governance reforms, the document is a warning over the gap between commitments the organisation has made regarding human rights and the reality of life in Saudi Arabia.

“Fifa should not permit Saudi Arabia to host the World Cup if it continues to flagrantly disregard human rights in several areas in breach of Fifa’s own policies”, the experts said in a statement. “It is obvious that Saudi Arabia falls very far short of those requirements. Given this, as matters currently stand, Fifa simply cannot properly permit it to host the 2034 World Cup.”

The submission lays out four areas in which the kingdom must make substantial change.

First, Saudi Arabia “must immediately release all political prisoners and those who are arbitrarily detained” and treat all prisoners in accordance with human rights standards.

Second, “the judiciary in Saudi Arabia must be appointed independently by a body not connected to the executive” and must be permitted to carry out its work without external influence. Third, employment law must be changed to allow migrant workers to leave jobs or the country without first having to apply for government permission.

Finally, Saudi must improve women’s rights by “criminalising marital rape, ensuring adequate protection from domestic violence, and allowing women to be the legal guardian for their child” if it is in the child’s best interests.

Fifa announced last October that Saudi Arabia was to be the only bidder for the men’s tournament in 2034. The deadline for submitting a full bid is in July, with Fifa regulations obliging host countries to commit to “respecting internationally respected human rights”.

A final decision on the location of the tournament is expected at the end of this year.

Dixon said the submission had been made in a collaborative effort to bring about change while it is still possible. “We hope that Fifa will constructively engage with the proposals put forward and that they stand ready to assist with all interested parties to effectively implement Fifa’s human rights policies,” he said.


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