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With Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 on the horizon, the process for selecting hosts for the World Cup of men’s football has been plagued by charges of corruption and human rights abuses. FIFA celebrated key developing economies with South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. But amid the aftermath of the global financial crisis, those sittings surfaced grave and persistent criticism of the social and economic efficacy of sporting mega-events. Meanwhile new norms emerged in global governance, embodied in instruments such as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and the Sustainable Development Goals. These norms posit that commercial aims can be harmonized with socioeconomic good. FIFA seized on the chance to restore public confidence and recommit itself to human exultation in sport, adopting sustainability strategies and engaging the architect of the UNGP to develop a human rights policy. But a vast gulf stands between FIFA today and its stated intentions for a new model of World Cup 2026. Idle stadiums and civil unrest in Brazil prolong scepticism of mega-event hosting, even as that country readies for the Rio Olympics. The Russian World Cup recalls that country’s anti-LGBT law, not to mention the Crimea invasion on the heels of the Sochi Olympics. The vast construction projects upending Qatari cityscapes have spotlighted an alarming human toll in that country’s immigration and labour practices, not to mention escalating angst over rampant spending in a depressed oil market. Can FIFA leave behind its money-soaked track record and embrace a new agenda that puts people before profit? This chapter examines a growing incompatibility between World Cup hosting and FIFA sustainability and human rights strategies. This incompatibility illustrates the difficult course that FIFA will have to navigate to make good on its promise to reform.


Unpublished paper presented at the Sport Project: Probing the Boundaries: 5th Global Meeting, Mansfield College, Oxford, UK, 13-15 Sept. 2016