Human Rights and the political neutrality of Sports
Statement by the World Players Association on Human Rights Day
On the occasion of Human Rights Day – which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 – the World Players Association said that international sport including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cannot allow its human rights responsibilities to be relegated below the so-called political neutrality of sport.
World Players Executive Director Brendan Schwab said:
“The separation of sport and politics is a well-known fiction. In recent years, the world’s greatest sporting events have been plainly used by repressive regimes engaged in sportswashing.
“At the same time, sports bodies have sought to silence athletes who are increasingly and courageously speaking out for the human rights of all. This is an unacceptable and dangerous double-game. It is inspiring to see the continued refusal of athletes to be silenced.
“Athletes are entitled and many feel have a responsibility to speak out on human rights matters when their athletic achievement is being used to promote regimes or events with appalling human rights records. Otherwise, athletes are accused of turning a blind eye to injustice merely because they want to fulfil their sporting dreams or represent their nation at the pinnacle of their sport.
“Sports bodies such as the IOC have a responsibility to respect human rights, which is not met by the convenient citing of ‘political neutrality’ or the absence of transparency and accountability. Sports bodies have great leverage and should exercise that leverage including over governments to advance human rights.
“This is particularly so when we are seeing athletes and other high-profile individuals targeted by regimes engaged in sportswashing.
“Athletes sit at the heart of sport. The targeting of athlete activists by repressive regimes due to the standing, status or profile of athletes is an egregious abuse of human rights and the principles of sport and one which requires sports bodies to take all necessary measures to ensure that all athletes – including those who engage in peaceful protest – are protected and defended by the power of sport.”
The World Players Association, part of UNI Global Union, is the exclusive global voice of organized players and athletes across professional sport. It brings together 85,000 players through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries. Its role is to ensure that the voice of organized players is heard at the highest levels in the decision-making of international sport.
World Players is a founding member of the Sport & Rights Alliance – a coalition of global non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Football Supporters Europe, Human Rights Watch, ILGA World, the International Trade Union Confederation and Transparency International Germany.