Human Rights Watch says world soccer's governing body must tackle rights abuses in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya now that the Egyptian national team selected the regional capital, Grozny, as the location for its base camp during this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
“Chechnya is now part of the 2018 World Cup operations. FIFA needs to reconcile its human rights policy with the serious violations going on there,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement on February 14.
Human rights groups and Western governments say that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov exerts a ruthless grip on the region with the Kremlin’s tacit support. The HRW statement said that "extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances are common [in Chechnya] and there is near-total repression of critics, journalists, and LGBT people."
The 2018 World Cup is scheduled to be held between June 14 and July 15 in 11 Russian cities -- Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, and Samara.
And world soccer's governing body, FIFA, said that Egypt’s national team will use Grozny as their base between matches.
The Egyptian squad will stay in a newly built hotel in the Chechen capital and train at Akhmat Arena, which was named after Kadyrov's father and Chechnya’s former leader who was assassinated in a 2004 bomb attack.
“A well-known football fan, it’s not hard to foresee [Kadyrov] showing off the republic as a World Cup host, taking photos with the Egyptian team, and promoting himself through FIFA, world soccer’s governing body,” HRW warned.
A spokesman for Kadyrov told the Reuters news agency that the stance adopted by HRW was unfounded.
"These conclusions are not based on anything. They are not grounded in the real situation in the Chechen Republic," said Alvi Karimov.
FIFA said in an e-mailed statement said that "there should be no doubt that in line with its human rights policy, FIFA condemns discrimination of any form."
And the Egyptian team manager said that the choice of Grozny was endorsed by FIFA and that the city had the right facilities for the squad.
Ihab Leheta also said that any reservations about Chechnya as a venue should be addressed to FIFA.
HRW said that one way to demonstrate FIFA’s human rights policy would be to intervene with the Russian authorities on the case of Oyub Titiyev, the jailed director of the prominent Russian human rights group Memorial's office in Chechnya.
Titiyev was arrested in last month and is in pretrial detention on a marijuana-possession charge he and supporters contends was fabricated.
With reporting by Reuters