Human Rights Violations at the World Cup: An Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game

I am a big fan of soccer/football, also known by some who love the sport as “the beautiful game.” It’s to the point that my own Twitter feed notes my support of a long-suffering team in the second tier of the English footballing system.

Given my fandom of soccer/football, what I am about to say breaks my heart: the World Cup, on every occasion in recent memory, is not just a soccer/footballing spectacle, but also a spectacle in human rights violations.

For example, various forms of slavery often have a presence at the World Cup. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is already gaining notoriety for using forced labor, even though that World Cup is four years away (if it even still happens in Qatar, which is no guarantee). Sadly, the problem is not limited to Qatar—in each of the three World Cups previous to 2018, issues with sex trafficking were widespread. World Cup hosts such as Germany (2006) and South Africa (2010) had major issues with this,[1] and a World Cup child trafficking bid was foiled just yesterday.

Furthermore, labor abuses are commonplace while these nations prepare for the World Cup. Much of the attention is on Russia right now since they’re hosting, and rightfully. As of the middle of 2017, it was reported that as many as 17 people have died in preparations for the World Cup as a result of labor abuses.[2] However, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar also deserves attention for all the people who died as a result of labor abuses while preparing for their World Cup.[3] Lamentably, labor abuses are frequently an issue while nations prepare for the World Cup.

And then there’s the mass displacement of people as a result of preparing for the World Cup. Jacob Zuma, who was the President of South Africa when his country hosted the World Cup in 2010, drew criticism because of the mass evictions of people in the run-up to the tournament. Brazil’s mass displacement of people while preparing for their World Cup in 2014 gained international press attention. Sadly, the World Cup often seems to displace people.

For all that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has drawn criticism for its human rights violations (and rightfully so), human rights violations sadly seem to exist at every World Cup, no matter where it is held. Qatar is bad with its human rights violations, but this doesn’t mean that we should hold the current World Cup hosts or the previous ones as beacons for justice in the midst of their preparing for their World Cups.

All of the injustice that is tied to these World Cups begs the following question: How do we respond? Some of us have responded or will respond by not watching the World Cup at all, in protest of these human rights abuses. Others of us will turn a blind eye and watch the World Cup, for one reason or another. But then there are people like me, people who are torn between a game they love and human rights violations they hate.

I personally haven’t been able to reconcile these two tensions, the tension between the soccer/football I love and the hatred of human rights violations that play out at every World Cup. However, I think a good start is to at least inform ourselves of the various human rights violations that happen at every World Cup. That’s the least we can do.


[1] A group of nuns who were backed by Pope Francis noted that “sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.” Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-soccer-world-trafficking/nuns-backed-by-pope-warn-of-human-trafficking-at-world-cup-idUSBREA4J0IS20140520

[2] https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/news/world-cup-2018-fifa-blamed-for-deaths-and-widespread-abuse-of-stadium-workers/

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/03/31/qatar-world-cup-workers/

Soccer Ball for World Cup Post
This is an image of “Telstar 18,” the official match ball of the 2018 World Cup. Source: Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Rus-Arg 2017 (11).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rus-Arg_2017_(11).jpg&oldid=272527602 (accessed June 10, 2018).

7 Replies to “Human Rights Violations at the World Cup: An Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game”

    1. You’re welcome. I actually am a follower of soccer and will probably root for England in the World Cup (studied abroad there plus I have family and good friends there). And that fact definitely made this piece difficult to write.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s incredible. I have a few friends from England much less the UK at large. Interestingly enough, I’m signed to a Scottish record label. It’s great having friends from around the world.

        Liked by 1 person

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