FIFA approved Chechnya as a World Cup base for Egypt and immediately met calls on Friday to reverse its decision in the face of charges of human rights violations by the Russian region’s strongman leader.
World soccer’s governing body disclosed it was continuing to monitor the suitability of allowing a team to be based in the Chechen capital Grozny, which was selected by Egypt from a list of 67 options presented to the World Cup finalists.
“FIFA’s decision to use Grozny for a World Cup team camp is absolutely shocking and outrageous,” Human Rights Watch associate director Jane Buchanan told The Associated Press. “FIFA should reverse their decision and move the training camp to another city.”
The FARE Network, a football anti-discrimination group, also said Chechnya should not be used by FIFA. No matches at the World Cup in June and July are being staged in the volatile North Caucasus region, and FIFA defended the decision to include Grozny on the list of authorized bases for the 32 finalists.
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“We currently have no grounds to believe that the choice of the Egyptian FA to locate its base camp in Grozny will cause particular adverse human rights impacts,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP. “That said, FIFA will take appropriate measures in accordance with its human rights policy should this assessment change in the coming months.”
The choice brings fresh attention both to Chechnya’s efforts to recover from two separatist wars and to criticism last year of its alleged persecution of gay people and other human rights abuses under leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
“There should be no doubt that FIFA condemns discrimination of any form, including discrimination based on sexual orientation,” FIFA said.
In a letter sent to activists in May, obtained by the AP on Friday, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said the anti-LGBT attacks in Chechnya were in “sharp contradiction to the values of FIFA as an organization and we firmly condemn them.”
The crackdown in Chechnya was not mentioned in November in the first report from FIFA’s new human rights advisory board, which was established in response to condemnation of abuses linked to events staged by the governing body.
Kadyrov has relied on his feared security forces to stifle any dissent during a rule that has been marred by numerous reports of extrajudicial killings and torture. Human Rights Watch reported on Friday finding “human rights defenders locked up on totally bogus charges and fleeing Chechnya for their lives” in recent months.
Buchanan, the author of a report on World Cup worker abuses in Russia, said Kadyrov runs Chechnya “like his own fiefdom and commits human rights abuses with impunity.”
“FIFA’s decision will only legitimize the utterly abusive Kadyrov regime,” she added. “It’s a complete disgrace that FIFA wants to be associated with Kadyrov.”
The choice of Grozny also means it is a long haul for Egypt’s team to its first match, against Uruguay, 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) away in Yekaterinburg. Egypt, which has qualified for its first World Cup in 28 years, plays Saudi Arabia and Russia in the other games in Group A.
Host Russia is one of nine teams to be based around Moscow including reigning champion Germany.
Nigeria faces an even longer trip than Egypt for its first match against Croatia, going from a base camp in the spa town of Essentuki to the Baltic exclave Kaliningrad 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) away.
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports