Earlier this month, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir took in the FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia. Bashir was among world leaders in the VIP section of Luzhniki Stadium, in Moscow. But he is unlike anyone else who watched from the crowd that day. He has the singular distinction of having been charged with all three major crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC): crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. The Sudanese leader is allegedly responsible for countless mass atrocities in Darfur since 2003 and has been on the run ever since he was first indicted in 2008, visiting numerous states in defiance of international law. Even if it is entirely predictable that he would want to travel like a typical head of state and thumb his nose at the ICC, FIFA’s willingness to host him at its premier event is shameful. Given the Association’s history however, it is also sadly unsurprising.
The global football association has infamously battled allegations of corruption. Less known is FIFA’s affiliation with war criminals. Officials from the organization have long cavorted with notorious international criminals. The soccer world’s purported respect for human rights appears to be cosmetic and its practice of fostering relationships with war criminals continues.
FIFA has a storied history with regimes responsible for mass atrocities. In 1978, the World Cup was held in Argentina. The festivities came in the midst of the country’s “Dirty War”, a period when an estimated 30,000 opponents of the right-wing military junta were disappeared. Decades later, many senior junta members responsible for atrocities during the Dirty War are incarcerated following convictions on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. The intimately interwoven nature of atrocity crimes and celebration of soccer in Argentina led one survivor of the Dirty War to remark that “the 1978 World Cup is one of the deep wounds of Argentine society. Every four years, a new World Cup reactivates those wounds.”
Reports have also long suggested that a senior FIFA official, Alfredo Hawit, collaborated “in unspecified forced disappearances with General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the point man for CIA and Argentina intelligence operatives attempting to replicate Operation Condor in Central America.” Still, FIFA has escaped responsibility.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, FIFA continued this trend of working with war criminals. In 1999, then Liberian President Charles Taylor was engaged in the long-standing civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Civilians were raped, maimed, in some cases cannibalized, and killed in the thousands. The country’s riches – especially its diamonds – were looted and traded by Taylor for the guns that in turn killed more civilians. In 2013, Taylor was convicted and sentenced to a fifty-year sentence by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for having aided and abetted war crimes during the war. But even in 1999 it was clear to anyone who cared to know that Taylor and the rebels he sponsored were engaged in horrific abuses of civilians. In the midst of this carnage, Taylor hosted an opulent dinner with FIFA’s now disgraced boss, Sepp Blatter. Continue reading