“If the athletes – who sit at the heart of sport and are the visible personification of sport for millions – do not have their rights respected, then how can those who make sport possible behind the scenes – the workers, the media, the local communities, the volunteers, how can they have any confidence that their rights will be respected and protected?”
“Despite the human rights crises that regularly confront sport, the progress we seek will not be given, but must be worked for by the affected people themselves and their genuine representatives and recognized advocates. They must have a real voice to stand up for themselves and have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. This is what we believe collective action means within the context of the Centre.”
In his opening address to the third annual Sporting Chance Forum Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of the World Players Association, delivered a strong message today outlining how athletes and others impacted by sport can make real progress in improving their circumstances in the context of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights. Please find the full transcript of Schwab’s address below.
On behalf of the World Players Association and our President Don Fehr, it’s a privilege to be the first voice representing the people – being, those most affected by sport – at the third annual Sporting Chance Forum.
The most important message World Players can deliver today is how athletes and others impacted by sport can make real progress in improving their circumstances, particularly in the context of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights.
In June at the launch of the Centre, I said that the ten principles enshrined in the Sporting Chance Principles are in the DNA of World Players. A year ago, our representatives of 85,000 professional athletes in more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries became signatories to the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a document that upholds the framework of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and respects international law.
We’ve been a proud part of the team working collectively to design the Centre since its ‘Big Bang’ moment in Glion only three years ago. At the same time, we have invested in the work of the Centre for the long term, we have also partnered with the Sport & Rights Alliance for the short and medium term, including by housing the position of the SRA Coordinator, Gigi Alford. Through the SRA, we have been party to public campaigns and direct action with sports bodies on the cases that can’t wait.
- For instance, why can’t women in Iran attend football?
- As Mary Robinson mentioned, Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi sits in detention in Thailand. We call on FIFA Senior Vice President and Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa to uphold the duties of his offices and use his leverage to have Bahrain’s request for extradition withdrawn, and for Hakeem to be allowed to return safely to Australia where he is a refugee under international law
- Or the case of the new IOC Declaration of Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities, which the IOC rushed to adopt in October despite the warnings by the SRA, World Players, a number of other athletes bodies, and human rights experts. The IOC Declaration narrowly defines athlete rights, fails to respect internationally recognised human rights, subjects those rights it does define to the rules of sport, and where it includes a vital issue, such as protection from abuse, does not provide access to an effective remedy. As Nancy Hogshead-Makar will shortly explain, sport when so defined is causing harm. And if the athletes – who sit at the heart of sport and are the visible personification of sport for millions – do not have their rights respected, then how can those who make sport possible behind the scenes – the workers, the media, the local communities, the volunteers, how can they have any confidence that their rights will be respected and protected?
Therefore, now is the time for the Centre to prove it works. We can all learn from our collective history, which
has taught us that, despite the human rights crises that regularly confront sport, the progress we seek will not be given, but must be worked for by the affected people themselves and their genuine representatives and recognized advocates. The athletes, workers, fans, local communities, journalists, and children must have a real voice to stand up for themselves and have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. This is what we believe collective action means within the context of the Centre.
History has also shown the importance of sticking to the basics. As any high performance athlete knows, you have to continually run through the fundamentals, so that you don’t lose them when the pressure is on. First, sport governing bodies are commercial operations and therefore have the responsibility to respect human rights under the UN ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ Framework. Second, the work to live up to the high-minded values of sport requires a team effort—no one stakeholder in this space can do it alone. Third, and most significantly during this week marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, let’s recall that human rights—all of them—are ‘universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.’ We cannot pick and choose which rights we would like to have—or not—nor those we care to grant to others—or not. Lastly, as I’ve emphasized again and again in previous Forums, access to justice is the essential element to bring these fundamentals to life, because even the best human rights policies and due diligence will fail sometimes, and we need to ensure there is an effective remedy for parties who are harmed.
The Centre must be a beacon of empowerment for the people affected by sport. The Centre must not reinforce the thinking that athletes and others should ‘wait and see’ what the governments, sports bodies, brands and broadcasters are going to do about their negative human rights impacts in their supply chains. This notion strips people of their agency. For the Centre to achieve real progress, the people themselves must also be ready to organise for their own rights.
And so, if there’s any lesson I can pass on to you, it would probably be to reaffirm that which you already know, which is if you trust the athletes and the people most affected by sport and you tell them the truth and you involve them in the process, you’ll get about as far as it’s possible to go, and you can’t ask for more.
With that, I will close, and I convey my thanks to Mary Robinson for her leadership in this creative process. And to John for your outstanding efforts these past few years. And finally, to Mary Harvey, on behalf of World Players and the Sport & Rights Alliance, welcome. Time to put your gloves back on.
The third annual Sporting Chance Forum brings together 250+ high-level delegates from a broad range of stakeholders to drive progress towards a world of sport that fully respects human rights. Representatives of affected groups, governments, sports bodies, trade unions, sponsors, NGOs, broadcasters, National Human Rights Institutions, and intergovernmental organisations have gathered in Paris at UNESCO, the UN’s lead agency for Physical Education and Sport, under the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The forum is hosted by the new Centre for Sport and Human Rights in partnership with UNESCO and the Institute for Human Rights and Business.
The World Players Association is a founding member of the Centre and a member of its Advisory Council.