Rights group Amnesty International has warned FIFA, football’s governing body, against expanding the Qatar 2022 World Cup to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising human rights concerns in the Gulf nations, according to a British media report.
In a statement to the British online newspaper The Independent, published on Saturday, the United Kingdom-based rights group said that any plans to extend the tournament, due to be hosted by Qatar, must come with a call for both countries to improve their human rights records.
President Gianni Infantino had announced last month that FIFA is considering expanding the 2022 World Cup from 32 teams to 48, with the possibility of Qatar sharing the tournament with other countries in the Gulf region.
“Gianni Infantino’s idea comes at a time when both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in the throes of cracking down on government critics and prominent human rights defenders,” Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs said.
“Any expansion of the Qatar World Cup into Saudi Arabia and the UAE ought to come with a proper acknowledgement from FIFA of the need to for both countries to substantially improve their human rights records,” he said.
Amnesty’s call comes as Saudi Arabia faces global condemnation and growing pressure over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document certifying his divorce.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been blamed and widely condemned for the murder – allegations denied by the kingdom.
“Not only have Saudi officials been involved in the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but jailed women’s rights activists have reportedly been tortured by electrocution and flogging in prison in Jeddah,” Hogarth said.
He also criticised the UAE for the sentencing of British academic Matthew Hedges to life in prison for spying and supplying sensitive security information to external actors after a “sham trial”.
Qatar beat rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States to win the bid in 2010, claiming the hosting rights for the World Cup to become the first Arab country to do so.
One of its stated aims was to create a legacy for the Middle East, but last year, its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain severed political and economic ties with Qatar, imposing a land, sea and air embargo on the peninsula.
Amnesty has also accused Doha of exploiting its migrant labour force as it prepares to host a winter tournament for the first time in World Cup history.
“Wherever the 2022 World Cup is staged, the same human rights considerations should apply – namely, that construction workers don’t suffer further exploitation as the infrastructure is put up, and that basic rights like freedom of speech aren’t curtailed during the lead-up to the matches themselves,” Amnesty’s Hogarth said in a statement earlier this month.
The 2026 tournament in the US, Canada and Mexico is set to be the first World Cup hosted by three nations, but Infantino hinted this week that an expansion could come early at the next event, potentially “building bridges” in the region.
A feasibility study is being conducted to assess the proposed expansion, with a final decision to be announced at the next FIFA Council meeting in March.
Meanwhile, Qatar is still planning and working towards a 32-team tournament according to its bid.
“From our side, we are continuing with preparations for a 32-team format,” Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which is overseeing the 2022 World Cup, told beIN Sports on Wednesday.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be assessed and addressed. I don’t want to pre-conclude what will be out there, but as of today it’s a 32-team World Cup.”