In Russia, meanwhile, officials have adopted a similar stance: The country's top diplomat for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, recently lashed out at a group of U.S. senators who publicly opposed Russia's law banning "gay propaganda" toward children, writing that the law "is not violating any of Russia's obligations in the international sphere."
Dolgov is technically correct. So is Blatter: The primary responsibility for protecting workers in Qatar lies with Qatar's government, but FIFA's inhuman practices are codified by the nation’s inadequate labor laws and backwards exit-passport system, which forces workers to spend additional resources to obtain documents to leave the country. Qatar and the companies it has hired, then, are the ones exploiting the desperate economic situation of workers, bringing them to the country and then taking away their basic human rights. ("Rather than protecting the rights of migrant workers, the government is adding to their exploitation," Amnesty International concluded.)
Amnesty International ultimately found that FIFA's overall attitude towards the Qatar World Cup is a cause for concern:
FIFA's repeated assertions that it is not responsible and cannot change things suggests that the organization may believe that raising the issue with the state authorities is sufficient. Additionally, the President's comments that there is "plenty of time" before 2022 fails to recognize that abuses are happening already, and that hundreds of thousands of workers will be recruited into Qatar's construction sector in the next nine years. It is not enough to wait until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is over before FIFA turns its attention to the human rights risks associated with the staging of the world cup construction work in Qatar.
Put simply, FIFA's attitude toward the situation reflects either great organizational incompetence or a cavalier attitude toward human suffering.
But the Olympics and the World Cup stand alone among sporting events as global cultural celebrations that allow individual countries to show off for a worldwide audience. FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have a moral imperative to ensure that the countries awarded such an honor provide all of their citizens, immigrants, and visitors with basic human rights (including freedom of sexual orientation, which, incredibly, is not codified in the UN human rights doctrine). Both Qatar and Russia fail that test.
So if FIFA and the IOC won't step up, then it's on us to force the changes—and by "us," I mean everyone who consumes or makes money off the World Cup or the Olympics. Star athletes like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Phelps, or Usain Bolt could send shock waves through the system by publicly protesting Russia's anti-gay policies or the lack of workers' rights in Qatar. Global corporations could starve the proverbial beast by refusing to pay for sponsorships or advertising. And while it’s true that making it everyone's problem could actually create more apathy, fútbol lovers across the world can make their own small difference by raising awareness about the issues in both countries and urging local leaders (such as the USOC) to demand that something be done.
It's been more than 77 years since the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin during the rise of Nazism. That summer, African-American sprinter Jesse Owens was credited with striking a blow for equality with his four-gold-medal performance as Hitler looked on. If the repressive regimes of the 21st century were stripped of the ability to host any more global sporting events, it would be an even greater victory.