When the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) unveiled the location of the 2026 World Cup, sports fans across North America naturally rejoiced. For the first time, the most-watched tournament in the world would be hosted by three countries: Mexico, the US and Canada. And this time, advocates had a reason to be enthusiastic, too—FIFA would require host nations and cities to submit a human rights plan as part of its selection criteria. This new policy signaled FIFA’s commitment to creating the infrastructure to address human rights abuses and to protect workers, following the highly-publicized, atrocious working conditions faced by guestworkers in the years leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Now, as FIFA begins visiting cities to select the 2026 hosts, it faces its first real test. Is FIFA’s commitment to human rights real? Or was it just words?
Throughout the past year, Migration that Works—a coalition of dozens of anti-trafficking organizations, labor unions, civil rights groups, and academics—has mobilized to prevent a repeat of Qatar. We drafted model human rights language for host cities, held a human rights briefing for applicant host cities, participated in city boards and stakeholder groups, and mobilized workers into action—all with one goal: to ensure that this World Cup respects workers’ rights.
But as FIFA wraps up its US city selection process, touring nine candidate cities in nine days, including Washington, DC and Baltimore this weekend, civil society and workers are being shut out. According to an official press release, FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani will join experts to evaluate cities on technical matters such as venue management, stadium and city infrastructure, and team facilities. Glaringly absent from the delegation are human rights experts who represent the interests of the workers directly tasked with maintaining venues, managing game service, and staffing ticket offices. Advocates need to see the cities’ human rights plans. But the cities we met with tell us that FIFA warned them not share those plans with stakeholders. Why?
If FIFA were serious about human rights, migrant workers and human rights stakeholders would be a part of the delegation evaluating host city candidates. Instead, FIFA has made its selection process opaque, undermining any intention or hope to uphold human rights in the World Cup. Rather than serving as a gatekeeper, and ignoring civil society requests for information, FIFA should be actively seeking to engage migrant workers and civil society throughout the selection process.
Low-income workers—immigrants, Black, Latinx, and AAPI—are the core foundation of a range of industries involved in the World Cup. They maintain the venue landscapes, service hotels where players and FIFA officials will stay, work at restaurants, and clean the stadiums.
Our members jointly have decades of experience documenting labor violations and representing migrant workers across sectors. The structure of temporary labor migration programs in the United States restricts workers’ freedom to move and access justice and basic services. One doesn’t need to look beyond this flawed structure to see that, without comprehensive human rights plans or worker engagement, World Cup history will repeat itself, harming workers and worsening working conditions across the region.
If FIFA is serious about uplifting human rights, the 2026 World Cup has the potential to welcome a new era of sports events, one that positively impacts all who are touched by the games. By meaningfully engaging workers and civil society, FIFA’s tournament could live in history not only as the most-watched event but as one that improves millions of people’s lives.