Pictured left to right are 3L students Amanuel Mekonnen, Viktoriia Martynov, Professor Andy Spalding, and Dilwyn Piner who will volunteer as designated human rights observers at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. 

A Watchful Eye: Richmond Law Students Volunteer as Human Rights Observers at the FIFA World Cup

November 15, 2022
As Doha, Qatar takes the world’s stage to host the FIFA World Cup 2022™ beginning this month, three Richmond Law students will have a front row seat to the action, providing a watchful eye to ensure that the human rights of those in attendance are protected.

Law students Viktoriia Martynov, L’23, Amanuel Mekonnen, L’23, and Dilwyn Piner, L’23, will travel with Professor Andy Spalding, Jennifer & Samuel Tarry Research Scholar, to Qatar to serve as designated human rights observers through the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Volunteer Program. A collaboration between the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and FIFA, the program provides real-time human rights due diligence during sporting events.

“In law school, we aim to immerse students in the theory of the law, and then introduce them to practice,” said Professor Spalding. “Serving as a designated human rights observer at the World Cup marks the intersection of theory and practice, with the added elements of experiencing global culture and the pure exhilaration of international sport.”

Throughout the event, volunteers will be deployed around official tournament venues to conduct real-time human rights risk assessments through one-on-one interviews, observations at higher-risk locations, and assisting attendees with raising complaints and accessing formal grievance mechanisms. Volunteers complete an initial training program that equips them to identify human rights impacts from a people-centered perspective, paying particular attention to potential vulnerabilities.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to see how events they have always observed and enjoyed, even recreationally, are themselves shaped by law,” Spalding said. “Law permeates so many aspects of our social interactions, and in Qatar, they'll see international laws, standards, and best practices collide with a distinctive culture in a most dynamic way.”

Despite criticisms surrounding Qatar being selected as the World Cup’s host country, due to the nation’s human rights abuses, Spalding believes this experience will bring particular value to the students participating.

“Most commentators on the World Cup being hosted in Qatar capture only select elements of this interaction, failing to appreciate so much nuance and richness,” he said. “These students will see beyond the superficial press coverage and sensationalistic reports, and observe for themselves the complex relationship between megasports and human rights.”