David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

The ugly side of the beautiful game

The Highland News, June 2015

I’m sure that like myself, readers were shocked and disheartened when fourteen FIFA officials were charged by US prosecutors over alleged bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150m (£97m).

Sport provides basic values, like fairness, team spirit and the acceptance of rules which are basic principles which we all aspire to. The FIFA revelations threatened these values and were a slap in the face for every football fan. While at grass roots level millions volunteer their time to coach and support our young teams and raise support for the game, the top body is setting the worst possible example, especially for aspiring young footballers.

Earlier this month Labour MEPs voted on a resolution condemning disgraced FIFA President Sepp Blatter and calling on the EU, EUFA and national governments to take strong action in the fight against high level corruption in FIFA - and not just leave it to the US. The resolution called for a strong commitment not just from FIFA but other sports organisations as well, to fight corruption and implement a code of conduct and a zero-tolerance policy on corruption in sport.

Among the reforms Labour MEPs called for greater transparency and accounting; watertight anti-corruption measures and an independent audit of the last ten years, but we would also like to see the European Commission actually implementing its own regulatory rules to which FIFA is subject. We also need good governance with clear international standards and rules to protect the integrity of sport.  

We would also like to see action on the appalling human rights abuses and deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. With 1200 deaths already, it is estimated as many as 4,000 people might die on the construction sites before the first ball is even kicked. It was over a year ago that a European Parliament mission to Qatar confirmed reports that migrant workers were being subject to widespread abuse equivalent to being 'bonded labour'. My colleague and fellow Labour MEP Richard Howitt who was part of the mission highlighted the country's 'kafala' employer sponsorship system where workers are trapped into enduring the non-payment of wages, confiscation of passports and physical abuse. Over a million workers are in a situation akin to 'bonded labour', contravening the obligations Qatar ratified in the international conventions against forced labour.

For decades we have heard rumours of bribery and corruption at FIFA. During last year’s World Cup in Brazil, we saw the first-ever ‘cooling breaks’ if temperatures rose above 32 C. The original Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup was for mid-June to mid-July when a high of 40 C is not uncommon. An historic switch has now set the final to be played in December.
What Labour MEPs have stressed in their resolution is that profound reform is needed. We need football governance that provides a fair and healthy framework in which athletes from around the world can trust in and identify with.

Sport must remain a vehicle for promoting human rights, not a justification for breaching them.

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