Last week, the international governing body for football, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), awarded the 2026 World Cup to a joint bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States. The planning and execution of one of the world's top sporting events will provide a test to the human rights commitment of FIFA.
The bidding process for the 2026 World Cup required much stronger commitments to human rights for the hosts and organizations that participate in the planning and execution of the massive event. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with consultation from the AFL-CIO and other advocates for working people, pushed FIFA to include strong human rights protections in the process. FIFA's commitment to this and other improvements in the process show some progress, but there is still a long way to go.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow spoke about the 2026 process:
None of the three host countries has a perfect record on workers’ rights, with Mexico and the USA ranking poorly in the ITUC Index. The ITUC will be working with our Global Unions and NGO partners in the Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA), and through the new independent center for sports and human rights....With the launch of the new independent center, and the inclusion of binding and enforceable labor and other human rights standards in mega sporting events, we now have the way forward to end the exploitation, which has cost so many lives and severely tarnished the sports industry.
The 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index noted that all three 2026 host countries have human rights records that are problematic. The index gave Canada a rating of "2," which signifies repeated violations of rights, the United States a "4," meaning there are systematic rights violations, and Mexico a "5," denoting that there is no guarantee of rights in the country. These ratings raise concerns about how World Cup organizers will address the violations and comply with the bidding standards.
The requirements that FIFA adopted for the 2026 World Cup mean that member associations must provide specific commitments and information, including:
- An explicit public commitment to respect all internationally recognized human rights in line with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
- A proposal for a human rights strategy on how to identify and address the risks of adverse impacts on human rights and labor standards. The strategy must include:
- A comprehensive report identifying and assessing any risks of adverse impacts on human rights and labor standards that is informed by a study by an independent expert institution assessing the respective country’s human rights context;
- Mechanisms that will be put in place to address all of the identified human rights risks; and
- A concept outlining ways in which the member associations will provide for or cooperate in access to remedy in the event that adverse human rights impacts have occurred.
- Guarantees of compliance with international human rights and labor standards from the government and host cities, as well as from the entities responsible for the construction and renovation of stadiums, training sites, hotels and airports.
Not only will working people be watching the 2026 World Cup, we'll be watching the lead-up to that event to make sure that FIFA lives up to its commitments.