Following the launch of the first FIFA approved tournament in Sri Lanka last week, the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, met with the Rajapaksa clan despite ongoing grave human rights concerns.
At the meeting, he met with war crimes accused President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Minister for Sports Namal Rajapaksa. The meeting further comes as Sri Lanka considers launching a bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games, following a previous failed attempt under Rajapaksa in 2011 and ongoing controversy over the island’s human rights record.
Infantino, who was initially elected in 2016 on promises of cleaning up corruption in the organisation, has repeatedly come under criticism for violating FIFA's code of ethics and accepting special treatment from by the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar.
Using sports to whitewash genocide
Tamil activists and human rights campaigners have advocated for a boycott of Sri Lanka from major sporting events. They argue that sports must not be used as a means of whitewashing Sri Lanka's dire human rights record of systemic torture, sexual violence, and genocide.
In September the ITJP detailed the abduction and torture of 15 Tamils by Sri Lanka's security forces. These abductions occurred since Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office as Sri Lanka's president in 2019.
In June executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project, Yasmin Sooka, slammed Sri Lanka for its dire human rights record noting:
“Sri Lanka is as well known for torture as it is for cricket. It’s time the whole country fully acknowledges the decades of systematic torture and abuse and stops cheering on the security forces. The victims deserve justice now”.
Corruption in FIFA
Replacing then-incumbent Sepp Blatter, Infantino was elected in February 2016 on his pledges to clean up the sport however by July he was suspected to have broken the organisation's rules of conduct and was interviewed by the investigatory chambers of the FIFA Ethics Committee.
Whilst the chambers discharged Infantino, he has faced criticism for accepting special treatments by the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar, which has raised concerns of a conflict of interest. These host countries organised private jets for Infantino and arranged for his staff to visit Russia and the Gulf states.
In July 2020 concerns of Infantino's conduct were also raised when he was accused of holding secret meetings with Michael Lauber, the Attorney General of Switzerland. Following these revelations, Lauber offered his resignation as reports noted that he attempted to cover up the meeting and lied to supervisors.