Reclaiming the Essence of Sport
On 5 December 2014, the world’s most influential athlete and player association leaders met in Cape Town, South Africa, to formally establish UNI World Athletes as the exclusive global association of organised players and athletes across professional sport.
The group gathered as part of the quadrennial congress of the UNI Global Union (“UNI”), the Swiss based labour organisation that represents more than 20 million workers from over 900 trade unions in the fastest growing sectors in the world – skills and services, including media and sport.
DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association in the United States, addressed the 2,000 congress delegates, and urged UNI affiliates to help athletes reclaim the spirit of sport:
“Our athletes, and the men and women who provide services, deserve to be more than just by-products of a commercial enterprise! We need to be the moral voice in the wilderness - the voice that reclaims what was once ours. We need to take back the beauty and the humanity of sport. There can be no beauty in sport when greed is the biggest winner. We need to move to a world where the integrity of sport does not tolerate migrant workers in Qatar who die building stadiums.”
The World Players' Association across Professional Sport
UNI World Athletes is a worldwide collective of 85,000 athletes through major player associations including FIFPro (the world footballers’ association), the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, the International Rugby Players’ Association, EU Athletes, the National Basketball Players' Associations, the National Women's Basketball Players' Association, the National Football League Players Association, the National Hockey League Players Association, the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association and the Australian Athletes’ Alliance.
Athletes under the umbrella of UNI World Athletes are based in over 60 countries and belong to over 100 different player associations. They work in sports including football, cricket, rugby, ice hockey, American football, baseball, basketball, handball, rugby league, cycling, volleyball, Gaelic sports, netball, horse racing (jockeys) and Australian football.
From 2011 to 2014, UNI World Athletes was known as UNI Sport PRO.
UNI World Athletes Executive Committee (From left to right): Don Fehr (NHLPA, President), Theo van Seggelen (FIFPro, 1st Vice President), DeMaurice Smith (NFLPA), Jean François Reymond (EU Athletes, Vice President), Takuya Yamazaki (JPBPA), Omar Hassanein (IRPA), Brendan Schwab (Head of UNI World Athletes), Dejan Stefanovic (FIFPro), Frederique Winia (FIFPro), Tony Irish (FICA) and Paul Marsh (AAA)
The ten member Executive Committee of UNI World Athletes includes representatives from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia/Oceania. It presently comprises:
- President Donald Fehr (United States), the Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association, and former long serving Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association
- Three nominees from the 65,000 player strong world footballers’ association, FIFPro:
- Theo van Seggelen (The Netherlands), the Secretary General of FIFPro (1st Vice President)
- Dejan Stefanovic (Slovenia), FIFPro Board member
- Frederique Winia (The Netherlands), the Director of International Relations of FIFPro.
- Tony Irish (South Africa), the Executive Chairman of Federation of International Cricketers Associations
- Paul Marsh (Australia), the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Football League Players’ Association and a Board member of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance
- Omar Hassanein (Ireland), Board member of the International Rugby Players' Association
- Jeff Reymond (France), the General Secretary of EU Athletes (Vice President)
- DeMaurice Smith (United States), the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association
- Takuya Yamazaki (Japan), lawyer and Board member, Japanese Professional Baseball Players' Association (JPBA)
Mr Yamazaki joined the Executive Committee in November 2015, following the sad passing of the late Toru Matsubara, the Executive Director of the JPBPA. A tribute to Mr. Matsubara can be found here.
Head of UNI World Athletes
UNI World Athletes Head Brendan Schwab is a co-founder of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance (AAA), which represents eight player unions and over 3,500 athletes in sports such as Australian football (AFL), basketball, rugby union, rugby league, cricket, netball, horse racing (jockeys) and football. He helped establish Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), serving as Chief Executive and General Counsel while advancing its progression and the reform of Australian soccer during the past 20 years.
On a global level, Schwab has played an instrumental role for FIFPro in protecting the rights of professional footballers in Asia and Oceania, serving in various capacities including as a board member, Vice President and Chairman of FIFPro Division Asia/Oceania.
In announcing Schwab’s appointment to the position in July 2015, UNI World Athletes President Donald Fehr said, “UNI World Athletes needs an executive of proven experience and dedication. We are thrilled that Brendan has agreed to come on board. He brings both obvious talent and long experience to our efforts, having represented and advocated for athletes from many countries for decades. He will be integral to our success in the years to come.”
Mission and Strategic Priorities
The mission of UNI World Athletes is to promote best practice in the collective representation of professional athletes, advance matters of common concern to those athletes and their unions, and to encourage athletes to organise. Central to this purpose is a clear commitment to ensure that the essence and integrity of sport are nurtured, and its social and cultural role in society are preserved.
The Executive Committee of UNI World Athletes has resolved to pursue six key policy areas as priorities. They are:
(1) to advance the good governance of sport reinforced by recognition of the role and rights of professional athletes;
(2) to promote the health and safety of professional athletes including their mental health, physical health and social wellbeing;
(3) to advance the integrity of sport, especially through effective anti-doping measures and empowering the athletes to help combat external threats to the integrity of sport such as corrupted governance, match manipulation, racism and discrimination;
(4) to protect the image rights and privacy of athletes, especially at a time of constantly emerging technologies and the proliferation of regulated and unregulated online sports betting;
(5) to enhance the development and wellbeing of athletes as people, acknowledging that the career of a professional is short-term and precarious; and
(6) to encourage the organisation of athletes throughout the world, to ensure they are intimately involved in the decision-making of sport. Indeed, a feature of the work of the world’s best player and athlete associations is the deep involvement of the players and athletes themselves within their unions, including direct attendance at bargaining sessions.
UNI World Athletes exists to ensure that, at the global level, the challenges to the wellbeing of professional sport are addressed through collective bargaining underpinned by the application of internationally recognised labour standards.
Established as an autonomous sector of UNI, UNI World Athletes is an international federation of independent player and athlete associations. The constitutional rules of UNI World Athletes describe the body’s objectives in the following terms:
“1. To serve as a global platform for world and regional and, in their absence, national and individual athlete and player associations throughout the world.
2. To ensure that the independent voice of athlete and player associations is recognized and respected in the governance of sport.
3. To defend the rights of athletes and players by encouraging the growth and development of athlete and player associations. The freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and, if necessary, to strike, must be fully established for all in the sector, regardless of type of employment.
4. To support the adoption of better national laws and international instruments aimed at robust protection of athletes’ and players’ rights as workers and citizens.
5. To co-ordinate and encourage the growth and development of world, regional and national associations of athlete and player associations.
6. Identify and secure external funding to assist in achieving the UNI World Athletes objectives
7. To ensure that the health and safety of athletes and players are always the primary considerations in rule making and policy formation, and to protect athletes and players against occupational illnesses and hazards and to encourage the improvement of occupational health, including mental health.
8. To identify with and support the broader trade union movement's objectives, including peace, respect of basic labour standards by employers and multinational companies in the sector, decent work for all, equitable remuneration, social justice, equal opportunity, freedom of expression and development of environmental policies.
9. To oppose all forms of discrimination: racism, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, cultural and religious.
10. To encourage co-operation between all trade unions and internationals in the sector, with full respect for various professional interests, and to serve as a link with other trade organizations outside the sector to foster the greatest solidarity possible on all matters where interests coincide.”
2011 ‘Nyon’ Declaration
The formal establishment of UNI World Athletes is the culmination of the historic athletes’ summit held in Nyon, Switzerland in November 2011, which brought together the global, regional and national player and athlete associations that now constitute the membership of the body. Expertly coordinated by the founding Head of UNI World Athletes and former professional basketball player Walter Palmer, the summit closed with the following declaration:
“We, the independent and democratically elected representatives of (thousands of) top athletes from around the world, today establish a federation of world player associations.
We take this action based on certain core principles and to address a crisis in governance at world sport organizations that have removed the athlete from the center of sport. There is no sport without athletes.
The societal role of sport is powerful, therefore it cannot be above the law and must respect principles of good governance.
We declare that world sport organizations, and governments, must respect national and international law as well as the fundamental rights of athletes as citizens and workers, including the right to organize collectively in player associations and unions.
Athletes and their collective representatives must play an integral role as stakeholders in all decision-making forums and structures that affect them.
We stand for the equal treatment of all athletes regardless of their ethnic background, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
For sport to thrive, it must be clean, fair, transparent and the unique nature of athletic careers must be taken into account.
We assert this mandate in the interest of sport and the athletes that play it.”