Human rights are now an explicit consideration in FIFA's evaluation of host-city bids.

With the Olympics 25 years in its rearview mirror, Atlanta has nothing to prove when it comes to hosting big sporting events. 

But as it officially entered the bid for the 2026 World Cup this week, the city made a special effort to show FIFA, the international soccer body, that it is uniquely qualified on one increasingly salient metric: human rights.

FIFA in 2017 published a new human rights policy with an emphasis on areas such as labor, land acquisition, discrimination, security and players’ rights. It’s now asking potential host cities to go through a review process to determine the human-rights “risks and opportunities” of awarding mega-events that result in millions of dollars in economic activity. 

The U.S., Canada and Mexico have already won their joint 2026 bid, but the 16 particular cities — 10 in the U.S., three in Mexico, and three in Canada — have not yet been decided. 

As the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and the often self-proclaimed “cradle of the civil rights movement,” Atlanta believes it has unmatched credentials on the human rights front — as much for recent initiatives as for hosting such historical “visionaries” as former President Jimmy Carter and the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Atlanta commends FIFA and U.S. Soccer for their commitment to safety and human rights, through their historic human rights protection requirements for Host Cities,” the office of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms emphasized in a recent news release. “The City of Atlanta strengthened the advancement of human rights through Mayor Bottoms’ creation of the City’s first Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; as well the appointment of a Chief Equity Officer, Director of Immigrant Affairs, Director of LGBTQ Affairs and the City’s first Chief Health Officer.”

The city, which is also in the midst of a bid to host the Nobel Peace Laureates’ summit, is also working to convene a human rights council composed of “immigrant community leaders, human trafficking advocates and Atlanta business leaders” to discuss the  World Cup bid.

FIFA was criticized over its decision to host the 2018 cup in Russia and awarding Qatar the honor in 2022. Both have been accused of failing to create safe conditions for largely imported workers building World Cup venues, among other issues. 

At the Metro Atlanta Chamber annual meeting in 2019, Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso told Global Atlanta that the potential tourism impacts could be huge for Georgia, given the protracted length of the tournament.
He added that his team would enlist the city’s 70-plus consulates, honorary consuls and foreign trade offices to work as ambassadors for Atlanta back in their home countries.
Officials also said at the time that Atlanta was in the hunt for the tournament’s broadcasting center.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...