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PACE sets out wide-ranging recommendations for placing human rights at the heart of football

Football’s main stakeholders must put human rights values at the heart of the sport, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said today in a wide-ranging resolution on football governance.

The adopted text, based on the report prepared by Lord George Foulkes (United Kingdom, SOC), sets out a series of detailed practical recommendations to FIFA, UEFA and other major bodies involved in football to achieve transparency, fairness and solidarity in football financing, including reform of the transfer market; ensure the hosts of major events comply with stringent human rights, social and environmental obligations; protect players, particularly young players, from abuse or exploitation; and promote gender equality and end discrimination in the sport.

“Business must not take precedence over values,” said the parliamentarians, underlining that human rights should always be the main driving force for football’s governing bodies. Among other things, the Assembly said countries must meet basic human rights requirements before being able to host major events such as the World Cup, and any country where women faced “clear discrimination in their access to sport” should simply be disqualified.

Addressing the Assembly during the debate, FIFA President Giovanni Infantino referred notably to human and workers’ rights in Qatar, and underlined that “change doesn’t come quickly, but change is happening”. Thanks to the World Cup and to the spotlight that football brings, he said, Qatar “has evolved in a record time of only a few years” in the fields of work legislation, protection of workers and minimum wage, although “a lot needs to be done” still.

As regards the transfer system, “it is also about solidarity and values, about training and education”, he said. Twenty years after the launching of a set of rules on transfers, he stressed, “we have to admit that not everything went as we had hoped, and change is needed”. To illustrate this, he pointed out that in 2019 the money spent on transfers of football players was about 7 billion euros, 10 per cent of which went to players’ agents and only 1 per cent to training for players and solidarity for the clubs. “Something is not right, and we are addressing it,” he said.

FIFA’s plan for a World Cup every two years could have “disastrous consequences for European football”, the Assembly said, urging it not to proceed without the agreement of European stakeholders and the IOC. FIFA should also have the right to regulate the global transfer system, as well as agents and intermediaries, and should find a balanced agreement to cap agent transfer fees.

As regards national associations, they should promote equal pay and rewards for national team players of any gender. There should be more money and resources to create a safer environment for children and teenagers playing football, and to tackle sexual abuse in the sport.

A “Safe Sport” agency should be created, the parliamentarians concluded, and a multi-sport, inter-institutional and intergovernmental body to deal with cases of abuse in sport.