For The Record

As Qatar took the world stage as host of the FIFA World Cup last year, three Richmond Law students had a front-row seat to the action in Doha, providing a watchful eye to ensure that the human rights of those in attendance were protected.

Viktoriia Martynov, Amanuel Mekonnen, and Dilwyn Piner — all in their third year at Richmond Law — traveled with Professor Andy Spalding, Jennifer & Samuel Tarry Research Scholar, to Qatar to serve as designated human rights observers. 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,” Spalding said. “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 tournament, volunteers were deployed around official event venues to conduct human rights risk assessments through one-on-one interviews and observations at higher-risk locations and to assist attendees with raising complaints and accessing formal grievance mechanisms.

Volunteers completed an initial training program that equipped them to identify human rights impacts from a people-centered perspective, paying particular attention to potential vulnerabilities.

“This was 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 saw 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, including allegations of human rights abuses, Spalding believes this experience brings particular value to the students who participated.

“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 had the opportunity to see beyond the superficial press coverage and sensationalistic reports and observe for themselves the complex relationship between megasports and human rights.”