Asser International Sports Law Blog

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The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Human Rights as Selection Criteria in Bidding Regulations for Mega-Sporting Events – Part II: FIFA and Comparative Overview – By Tomáš Grell

The first part of this two-part blog examined the new bidding regulations adopted by the IOC and UEFA, and concluded that it is the latter who gives more weight to human rights in its host selection process. This second part completes the picture by looking at FIFA's bidding regulations for the 2026 World Cup. It goes on to discuss whether human rights now constitute a material factor in evaluating bids to host the mega-sporting events organised by these three sports governing bodies.


FIFA: 2026 World Cup

About the host selection process

The United States, Mexico, and Canada together on the one side and Morocco on the other are bidding to host the 2026 World Cup. The bidders must now prepare and submit their Bid Books to FIFA by no later than 16 March 2018, providing the world's governing body of football with information regarding their hosting vision and strategy, the country's political system and economic situation, technical matters, other event-related matters, or human rights and environmental protection.[1] FIFA will then commission a Bid Evaluation Task Force,[2] composed of the chairman of the Audit and Compliance Committee, the chairman of the Governance Committee, one member of the Organising Committee for FIFA Competitions, and certain members of the General Secretariat with relevant expertise, to prepare a written report evaluating each bid. This report will be split into three sections, namely (i) compliance assessment; (ii) an assessment of the risks and benefits of each bid, including the risks of adverse impacts on human rights; and (iii) an assessment of key infrastructural and commercial aspects of each bid, including stadiums, transport infrastructure, organising costs, or estimated media and marketing revenues.[3] The Bid Evaluation Task Force will apply a scoring system that might eventually lead to the exclusion of a bid from the host selection process in the event of its failure to reach a required minimum score.[4] It is critical to note, however, that this scoring system will only be used to evaluate infrastructural and commercial aspects of each bid.[5] In other words, human rights or environmental protection are not subject to this scoring system.

The Bid Evaluation Task Force will forward its report to the members of the FIFA Council who will determine whether or not each bid qualifies to be voted on by the FIFA Congress.[6] While until now the decision on the venue for the FIFA's flagship event has been taken by the Council (formerly the Executive Committee), the host of the 2026 World Cup will be elected for the first time by the members of the Congress.[7] The Congress will meet for this purpose in June 2018 and it may either award the right to host the tournament to one of the candidates or reject all bids designated by the Council.[8] In the latter case, FIFA will launch a new procedure that will culminate with a final decision in May 2020.[9] It is also worthwhile noting that the entire host selection process will be overseen by an independent audit company.[10]

Human rights as selection criteria

A number of human rights requirements could be found across different bidding documents relating to the host selection process for the 2026 World Cup. This section takes a closer look at the content of these requirements. 

First, each member association bidding to host the tournament must undertake to respect all internationally recognised human rights in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles).[11] Importantly, this commitment covers not only the member association's own activities, but also the activities of other entities that are in a business relationship with the member association, be it for the production of goods or provision of services. In this respect, FIFA acknowledges that ''a significant part of human rights risk may be associated with the activities of third parties''.[12]

Second, FIFA requires that each bidder provide a human rights strategy outlining how it is going to honour its commitment mentioned above.[13] While a similar requirement also appears in the UEFA's bidding documentation for the Euro 2024, FIFA is much more specific in defining the essential elements of this strategy. Accordingly, the strategy shall include a comprehensive report ''identifying and assessing any risks of adverse human rights impacts […] with which the member association may be involved either through its own activities or as a result of its business relationships''.[14] Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the entire host selection process is the follow-up requirement that this report be complemented by an independent study carried out by an organisation with recognised expertise in the field of human rights.[15] This independent expert organisation will examine to what extent does the national context, including the national legislation, influence the member association's capacity to respect all internationally recognised human rights.[16] As part of their strategy, the bidders should further explain what measures they intend to take in order to mitigate any human rights risks identified in the comprehensive report.[17] Moreover, the strategy should contain information about the implementation of an ongoing due diligence process, the plans for meaningful community and/or stakeholder dialogue and engagement,[18] the protection of human rights defenders' and journalists' rights, or grievance mechanisms.[19]

Third, each bidder must provide a report summarising its ''stakeholder engagement process implemented as part of the development of the […] human rights strategy''.[20] Fourth and last, the government of each country bidding to host the 2026 World Cup shall express its commitment to: (i) respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights in connection with the hosting and staging of the tournament; and (ii) ensuring that victims of human rights abuses will have access to effective remedies.[21] To this effect, each of the involved governments is required to sign a separate declaration.

A comparative overview

It remains to be seen whether the new bidding regulations will help reduce the number and severity of adverse human rights impacts linked to mega-sporting events. For the time being, it is essential to identify the strong and weak points of these regulations.

When discussing strengths, FIFA and UEFA come to mind. Both organisations should be applauded for demanding that the bidders pledge to respect and protect internationally recognised human rights independently of the locally recognised human rights.[22] FIFA moreover extends this obligation to the activities of third parties that are in a business relationship with the bidding member association. Both FIFA and UEFA also ask for a human rights strategy that should include some crucial information such as evidence of meaningful consultation with potentially affected communities. Again, FIFA goes one step further by requiring that this strategy be accompanied by an independent expert study.

All three sports governing bodies reserve the right to assign a role to independent human rights experts in evaluating or preparing bids.[23] And while this is in itself commendable, it should be noted that such a role is limited because it does not entail decision-making competences. For instance, the expert institution responsible for developing an independent study in the host selection process for the 2026 World Cup will not have the power to exclude a bid if it ascertains that the national context significantly undermines the member association's capacity to respect internationally recognised human rights. This expert institution will certainly put more pressure on FIFA in the sense that any action contrary to the institution's recommendations will have to be publicly justified by compelling reasons, but FIFA may nevertheless decide to consider a bid even if it entails serious human rights risks. Moreover, it is difficult to understand why only infrastructural and commercial aspects of a bid are subject to the scoring system applied by the Bid Evaluation Task Force. If the main reason for this is the fact that the members of the Bid Evaluation Task Force lack expertise in the field of human rights, then the assessment of human rights aspects should perhaps be left to independent experts only. It would be crucial to give these human rights experts some power to decide whether or not a bid qualifies for the next stages of the host selection process. A greater role for independent human rights experts in evaluating bids to host mega-sporting events could come with the establishment of an independent Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018. However, this will probably not affect the host selection processes that are currently underway.


Including human rights within the criteria for evaluating bids to host mega-sporting events may deter many countries, especially those with a negative human rights record, from launching a bid. However, as Professor John Ruggie makes clear, human rights requirements in bidding regulations for mega-sporting events are not aimed at ''peremptorily excluding countries based on their general human rights context''.[24] Indeed, a country where human rights abuses occur can nevertheless deliver an abuse-free event. To do so, it will need to develop an effective strategy and, if selected, guarantee the implementation of this strategy from day one.

[1]    FIFA, Structure, Content, Presentation, Format and Delivery of Bid Book for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

[2]    FIFA, Bidding Registration regarding the submission of Bids for the hosting and staging of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, pp. 23-28.

[3]    Ibid. pp. 24-25. See also FIFA, Guide to the Bidding Process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, p. 7.

[4]    FIFA, Bidding Registration, pp. 25-27.

[5]    Ibid.

[6]    Ibid. p. 31. See also FIFA Statutes, Article 69(2)(d).

[7]    FIFA, Bidding Registration, pp. 31-32. See also FIFA Statutes, Article 69(1).

[8]    FIFA, Bidding Registration, p. 31.

[9]    FIFA, Guide to the Bidding Process, p. 13.

[10]   FIFA, Bidding Registration, pp. 22-23.

[11]   FIFA, Structure, Content, Presentation, Format and Delivery of Bid Book, Section 23 – Human Rights and Labour Standards. In addition to international treaties and instruments mentioned in Principle 12 of the UN Guiding Principles, FIFA concedes that ''the scope […] of internationally recognised human rights may be enlarged to include, for instance, the United Nations instruments on the rights of indigenous peoples; women; national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; children; persons with disabilities; and migrant workers and their families''. See FIFA, Bidding Registration, p. 74.

[12]   FIFA, Structure, Content, Presentation, Format and Delivery of Bid Book, Section 23 – Human Rights and Labour Standards.

[13]   Ibid.

[14]   Ibid.

[15]   Ibid.

[16]   Ibid.

[17]   Ibid.

[18]   The community and/or stakeholder dialogue and engagement should be in line with relevant authoritative standards such as the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Process.

[19]   FIFA, Structure, Content, Presentation, Format and Delivery of Bid Book, Section 23 – Human Rights and Labour Standards.

[20]   Ibid.

[21]   FIFA, Overview of Government Guarantees and the Government Declaration, pp. 11-12.

[22]   In this regard, FIFA also notes that ''where the national context risks undermining FIFA's ability to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights, FIFA will constructively engage with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities''. See FIFA's Human Rights Policy, para. 7.

[23]   IOC, Report of the IOC 2024 Evaluation Commission, p. 7. UEFA, Bid Regulations for the UEFA Euro 2024, Article 14. As mentioned earlier in this blog, FIFA demands that the bidders put forward a human rights strategy complemented by an independent expert study.  

[24]   John G. Ruggie, For the Game. For the World. FIFA and Human Rights, p. 32.

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Kosovo at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – Constructing Statehood Through Sport? By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Kosovo at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – Constructing Statehood Through Sport? By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations. 

“Serious sport…is war minus the shooting.” – George Orwell


In May 2016, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) admitted the Football Federation of Kosovo (Kosovo) as a member. The voting was close, with 28 member federations in favour, 24 opposed, and 2 whose votes were declared invalid. The practical outcome of this decision is that Kosovo would be able participate in the UEFA Euro championship, and that Kosovo teams could qualify for the UEFA Champions’ League or Europa League.

A few days later, Kosovo, along with Gibraltar, were admitted into the Fédération Internationale de Football (FIFA) as members. This marked the increasing recognition of Kosovo as an independent entity for sporting purposes, with Kosovo’s National Olympic Committee receiving recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December 2014.

The admission of Kosovo as an independent competitor in the sporting world has touched off controversy, particularly in Serbia. Kosovo has attempted to assert its independence from Serbia for more than two decades, with a formal declaration of independence in 2008 – a declaration that was referred to the International Court of Justice who found that the declaration was not a violation of international law (I.C.J. Reports 2010, p. 403). The Football Federation of Serbia (Serbia) sought review of UEFA’s decision, and took its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). CAS upheld UEFA’s decision in January 2017 (CAS 2016/A/4602).


The CAS Decision

Serbia’s argument to the CAS was that UEFA violated its own regulations by admitting Kosovo as a member. Other grounds, namely procedural grounds, and an alleged violation of Serbia’s freedom of association rights, were raised. However, the CAS denied Serbia relief on those grounds, and I’ll leave a discussion of those aside in order to get to the decision on the substance of UEFA’s regulations.

The main point of contention in the complaint was the interpretation of the UEFA Statutes Art. 5(1), which deals with the admission of new members:

Membership of UEFA is open to national football associations situated in the continent of Europe, based in a country which is recognised by the United Nations as an independent state, and which are responsible for the organisation and implementation of football-related matters in the territory of their country.

The CAS panel found this provision to be ambiguous based on the reality that the United Nations does not recognise states. Instead, an entity must be a state to become a member of the United Nations (UN Charter, Art. 4(1)). Since the part of the provision at issue, whether or not Kosovo could be admitted since it was not “recognised by the United Nations as an independent state”, was void, how was the provision to be interpreted?

The CAS turned to four principles of statutory interpretation, based on the Swiss Civil Code: the genesis of the law, a systematic interpretation, common practice and understanding, and the ratio (purpose) of the provision. The CAS found the first three principles to be unhelpful, as these principles ultimately uncovered elements that only led to the ambiguity in the first place.

The CAS finally turned to the ratio of the provision. It found that the purpose of the provision was to have one football federation per country, and to limit secessions of football federations only to instances where the secession was supported in a broader political sense. The CAS stated that: “the attempt to mirror the solutions and realities of the political map onto the sporting world makes a lot of sense” (para. 123). The panel also noted that the Olympic Charter and FIFA Statutes defined a “country” as “an independent state recognised by the international community”, and pointed out that Kosovo’s sports bodies had been recognised by the IOC and other international sporting federations under this definition. As a result, the CAS found that the definition of “country” had a common understanding in the sporting community, and it was one that did not require UN membership.


The Gibraltar Decision

Both UEFA’s decision, and the CAS case, have their roots in the late 1990s, but in regards to a territory on the other side of Europe – Gibraltar. Gibraltar is not an independent state, but is a territory of the United Kingdom. It is also a source of diplomatic conflict between the United Kingdom, and Gibraltar’s neighbour – Spain. Gibraltar applied for UEFA membership in 1997. Having had its own football association since 1895, and with the UEFA requirements then only requiring that a UEFA member have its own football association that oversees football in the territory, Gibraltar’s application looked to be a lock. Indeed, the application was initially positively received by UEFA, and looked to be a done deal by the year 2000.

However, UEFA repeatedly delayed making a final determination, in part because of Spanish opposition to Gibraltar’s membership (the English Football Association, for its part, was supportive of Gibraltar). After more than two years, UEFA still had not made a determination on Gibraltar’s membership. Yet, they had received, processed, and approved an application by Kazakhstan to join UEFA after it had left the Asian Football Confederation in 2001. UEFA remained pretty busy during this time, as they changed their rules regarding the admission of new members to UEFA. The new change was the language that was at issue in the Kosovo case – that a new member be recognised as an independent state by the United Nations.

The case was brought before the CAS (2002/O/410), where Gibraltar sought a declaration that its application be considered under the pre-2001 rules that it had initially applied under, and that its application be accepted by UEFA. The CAS agreed with Gibraltar that UEFA could not change its rules mid-stream, finding that upholding such a change would violate a presumption against retrospectivity in regards to substantive laws, and principles of good faith. The CAS ordered UEFA to decide on Gibraltar’s membership based on the pre-2001 rules. After two more arbitrations heard by the CAS in 2006 and 2013, Gibraltar was admitted as a UEFA member in 2013. Gibraltar’s status as a FIFA member was similarly accomplished through CAS decisions.


Sport as a Playground for International Law

With all apologies to this blog’s Editor-in-Chief Antoine Duval, sport is not just a playground for transnational law, but also for international law. Scholars of international relations and international law are frequently surprised with the complexity and the depth of sports’ legal system. But perhaps more surprising is the consistent surprise that sports is more than simply “low politics”, and something that can be safely ignored in light of other areas such as military force, international trade, and the like.

I suggest that a case such as Kosovo’s quest for recognition by sporting bodies does matter for international law and international relations more generally. On the merits, these cases are administrative law exercises, whereby the CAS is merely ensuring that UEFA has complied with its own procedures, and the Kosovo case is a statutory interpretation exercise. However, I think that these cases – particularly the Kosovo case, should help shape our understanding of establishing a state.

There is a debate in international law over when a political entity becomes a “state” – with the attendant rights and obligations. The “constitutive” theory argues that an entity can only become a state when other states recognize it. The “declaratory” theory argues that so long as certain “facts on the ground” are established (usually the Montevideo Convention requirements of territory, population, government, and the capacity to enter into foreign relations), recognition is merely a declaration of what is already the case.

Kosovo is in the midst of attempting to establish its statehood. Currently, 110 UN member states recognise Kosovo. However, Serbia, Russia, and China, amongst others, do not. In establishing its statehood, Kosovo is unlikely to obtain UN membership anytime soon, with two of the permanent members of the Security Council likely to veto any attempt by Kosovo to join.

However, Kosovo appears to be taking a page from the playbook of states that went through de-colonization – not only obtain a seat at the UN, but obtain recognition from the IOC (and other sporting bodies). Next to having a seat at the UN, participation in the Olympic Games is one of the most visible signifiers of statehood. What could a more powerful signal of independence than having one’s athletes march in the opening ceremonies of an Olympic Games, waving the state’s flag, and having its anthem play upon winning a gold medal in front of thousands of people live and billions of people watching from home?



If you are skeptical that states care about who participates in international sporting events, Taiwan remains a prime example. Taiwan does not compete as “Taiwan”, or as the “Republic of China” along with its national flag – but instead its athletes compete under “Chinese Taipei”, using a different flag with the Olympic Rings on it. This was as a result of a deal brokered by the IOC and the People’s Republic of China in 1979 to get the People’s Republic of China to participate in the Olympic Games – a deal eventually accepted by Taiwan in 1981.

What cases like Chinese Taipei and Kosovo suggest is that although recognition is important in establishing statehood, it may not be limited to state recognition. While states may be the only organisations that have international legal personality, there are cracks forming in that monolithic conceptualization of international law. It is clear that sporting organizations such as the IOC, FIFA, and UEFA do not have international legal personality. However, they act as global administrative bodies, responsible for the organization of much of global sport. As such, these bodies have the reach and arguably, influence of the UN bodies – creatures of states that have international legal personality.

A real concern over constructing statehood through, inter alia sporting competition is that it may create a “slippery slope”. After all, if Gibraltar – certainly not a state – and Kosovo – questionably a state – can join UEFA, FIFA, or have a National Olympic Committee recognized, what is to stop other entities from doing the same? “Alternative” competitions involving entities that are not recognized as states, such Northern Cyprus, or ethnic groups such as the Sami of Scandinavia or the Romani of Europe, have taken place. Could one of these entities apply to join the international sporting community? The line-drawing by international sporting organisations has thus far proven to be problematic. However, this is a question perhaps best left for future research.

So, in the end, does the UEFA admission and CAS decision make Kosovo a state? Legally-speaking, probably not. Becoming a state entails not only rights at international law, but also obligations. It seems perhaps a stretch to say that a decision by a private arbitral body that oversees a specialized area would be determinative of a highly-contentious issue. However, one step below that is the political question of whether recognition by these sporting bodies helps Kosovo’s claims to statehood. I think the answer is as follows: If you ask the “man on the street” whether Kosovo was a state as Majlinda Kelmendi (the flag-bearer in the photo above) stood on the podium after winning a gold medal in judo at the 2016 Summer Games, or while that man watches the Kosovo team participate in the UEFA Euro and FIFA World Cups – that answer is more and more likely to be “yes”.