U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led a group of eight senators in sending a letter to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) demanding the organization heed the growing calls to open an investigation into reports of exploitation of North Korean workers on a World Cup stadium site in Russia. Expressing their disappointment in FIFA’s original decision to award the next World Cup to “a country that so blatantly disregards international norms”, the Senators encouraged FIFA President Gianni Infantino to consider disqualifying Russia as host of the 2018 World Cup should an independent investigation determine that the Russian government or Local Organizing Committee was complicit in subjecting North Korean construction workers to forced labor.
“As an organization with the capacity to affect the lives of billions of fans, athletes, and workers around the world, FIFA must live up to its commitments on human rights. Protecting workers and athletes from forced labor must be a key element of those commitments. If FIFA fails to take action against Russia and North Korea, it will be perceived as tolerating these countries’ heinous practices,” wrote the Senators. “The world’s premier sporting event must not be built on the backs of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
In their letter, the Senators also call on FIFA to expel North Korea from its membership in the organization, citing reports that Kim Jong-un's regime has abused its own athletes, possibly by sending them to prison camps. “A government that is one of the world’s foremost human rights violators should not be allowed to reap international legitimacy, and to financially benefit, from the world’s most popular sport,” concluded the Senators.
Joining Menendez in signing the letter were Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo,); Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); David Perdue (R-Ga.); and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn).
The 2018 World Cup is scheduled to be hosted across 11 Russian cities from June 14 to July 15, 2018. Senator Menendez has lead the Congressional effort for FIFA to stand up for human rights and against authoritarian regimes, sending a letter back in May 2015 asking FIFA’s Congress to reconsider its support for President Sepp Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA President in light of his questionable support for Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.