Bite on this! Action on Suarez, inaction on Qatar? Is Fifa toothless?

We've all seen the pictures, videos and photo-shopped film posters doing the rounds of Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez's latest on-field lunch break during the South American side's World Cup game against Italy.

Football fans around the world will have been avidly reading the pages and pages of debate around the incident and waiting with baited breath for Fifa’s response.

Yesterday it came – a four-month ban meaning Luis Suárez will miss nine international games, the first nine games of the Premier League with Liverpool and three Champions League matches.

Many will see it as a fair punishment, at least in the European media. In Uruguay however, the news pages are awash with accusations of the British media being out to get their hero, of an anti-Suárez agenda. Agenda or not, Fifa had to act fast and decisively and they did.

The next challenge for international football's governing body is to act as decisively on another scandal, off the pitch but very much at Fifa's feet. It is, of course, Qatar 2022 and not just the allegations of corruption in the bid to get the tournament in the first place, but the horrendous situation migrant workers from South Asia – the ones building the roads, hotels and stadia needed for the World Cup – find themselves in.

Last November, Amnesty published a report which found that migrant workers frequently have their passports taken on arrival and do not have them returned, and  have their wages withheld. It also found that they are forced to live in squalid, overcrowded accommodation and to work in extremely dangerous conditions. According to a report from the Qatari government itself, one migrant worker a day has died in the last two years. It is these circumstances in which World Cup infrastructure is being built.

And Qatar is not the only country with human rights abuses linked to a major sports event. Anti-World Cup protests in Brazil in the last year and right into the early days of this World Cup have been violently repressed by police, who have used stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, and have beaten protesters with hand-held batons.

Russia has the 2018 World Cup and you'd have to have been living in a cave to have missed the international condemnation of President Putin's clampdown on gay rights and wider freedom of expression that accompanied the Sochi Olympics in February. It's likely that Fifa will come in for the same criticism from human rights organisations as the IoC did for failing to challenge these abuses.

It's interesting that Suárez has lost sponsorship from betting website 888Poker thanks to this latest scandal, with other backers apparently considering their positions - controversies like this can obviously damage the brand. 

A similar thing happened when the Sunday Times broke the Qatar corruption story a few weeks ago - Adidas, Sony and Visa, all World Cup sponsors, called for an investigation into the allegations.

So far, World Cup sponsors have been quiet on the human rights front, but word from them (who'd want their name on an event potentially responsible for the deaths of hundreds of workers?) would add to the pressure on Fifa to make sure human rights abuses do not occur in the name of the game loved by so many around the world, and that human rights are not sacrificed for the relentless pursuit of profit.

It's refreshing to see Fifa take swift action on Suárez, sending a message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. Let's hope action on the behaviour of the authorities in certain host countries will not be far behind.

Ryan Wilding is one our Media team volunteers, working on sport and human rights.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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