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FIFA criticised over ticket sales to fans banned from Qatar

FIFA has been criticised for selling tickets for the Club World Cup in Qatar to fans banned by their governments from entering a country considered a political enemy since 2017.

Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said the governing body has neglected fan welfare.

Organisers in Doha reportedly told The Independent that it had not put plans in place to protect fans against legal penalties for entering the country.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have criminalised trips to Qatar since the Arab Spring uprisings in the early 2010s.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry issued an order stating that anyone who violates its own Qatar travel ban “shall have his personal passport withdrawn and his request to renew it shall be denied.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Passports placed Qatar on its list of countries to which Saudi citizens are not allowed to travel under penalty of a three-year global travel ban and a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (£2,000/$2,600).

The governments that have the blockade in place said it would not be lifted unless and until Qatar complies with a myriad of political demands that it continues to reject.

FIFA told The Independent that it sold over 200 Club World Cup tickets to fans in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in October, exposing those supporters to potential legal prosecution. It has also sold over 500 tickets to fans from the UAE and Egypt.

“All of FIFA’s actions, including the sales of tickets, must be guided by what the human rights risk is,” Human Rights Watch’s Director of Global Initiatives Minky Worden told The Independent.

“All governments have a responsibility not to abuse the human rights of their citizens. So if the governments are extracting a harsh price for attending the Club World Cup then the first responsibility would be with the governments of those countries, but a very close second would be FIFA, which has to know and be transparent about what the risks are to fans in these countries.

“Since 2016, when it adopted the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, FIFA has said it will complete risk assessment due diligence, monitoring, transparency and remediation. FIFA’s not doing any of that from what I’ve seen with Qatar.

“If a Saudi soccer fan attends and has trouble when he or she returns then FIFA should intervene to make sure the fan is not harassed or prosecuted. Since they’ve arranged for the fan to go, FIFA must make sure that there is no retaliation on their return. This system of identifying human rights risks and managing them is what FIFA has put in place and that’s where the responsibility lies.”

A FIFA spokesperson told The Independent, “entry to the host country is a topic led rather by the Host Country”. The governing body added that it would work with the hosts to “create an inclusive experience for all fans” and “use football’s unique power to bring people together in a spirit of celebration and fair play.”