Sport and human rights

The FairSquare team has worked for years on the intersection of sport, business and geopolitics, with a particular focus on research and advocacy related to the Gulf region.

Migrant workers in Qatar, featured in The Workers Cup film

We believe that sporting organisations too often fall short of their lofty aspirations and that stricter controls are needed to prevent institutions and competitions contributing to human rights harm. In recent years, there has been some progress internationally, with sporting bodies acknowledging that their activities can harm human rights. But so far, this has not yet led to governing bodies putting real pressure on states or businesses to stop human rights abuses that are connected to their operations.

On Qatar 2022, we have engaged with FIFA, its partners Coca-Cola and Adidas, and other stakeholders, encouraging them to use their influence to ensure that Qatar carries out investigations into migrant worker deaths and releases data that would facilitate a better understanding of those deaths. In 2019, Liverpool FC supported our call for investigations ahead of their participation in the World Club Championships in Doha. In March 2021, as football fans and players began to express concerns about human rights in Qatar, we called on Qatar and FIFA to take action.

FairSquare has also taken a stance on the issue of football club ownership, and in April 2020 wrote to the English Premier League in relation to the proposed Saudi Arabia government-backed takeover of Newcastle United. In July 2020 we and Human Rights Watch called on the Premier League to adopt a human rights policy, the absence of which was exposed by the Newcastle takeover attempt. We argue that governments and entities they control should be disqualified from owning football clubs, given the important social role that clubs play, and the reputational advantages that ownership can confer on autocratic states who demonstrate little respect for human rights. This is often referred to as “sportswashing”.

We believe sporting institutions can protect others and themselves with rigorous human rights policies, drafted in good faith and with full institutional support for implementation, backed up where necessary by government regulation.