World Players marks historic year of athlete activism with constitutional commitment to human rights


World Players marks historic year of athlete activism with constitutional commitment to human rights

The players association movement is the gateway to the fulfilment of human rights in and through sport

(Nyon, Switzerland, Friday December 18, 2020) – The leaders of the player and athlete associations of the world gathered virtually on 15 December to close 2020, an extraordinary year of athlete activism and collective action to advance human rights and address Covid-19 in the world of sport.

The 4th World Assembly of the World Players Association unanimously resolved to adopt a constitutional commitment to advance human rights in, through and beyond sport. Article 3 of the Rules of World Players now reads:

“World Players and affiliates are committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights including through remediation.”

Brendan Schwab, World Players Executive Director, said:

“World Players has a steadfast commitment to embedding the human rights of the players and everyone who makes sport possible. That commitment means we must lead by example through our constitutional obligations and the effort we make to ensure human rights are respected within the governance of our organization.

“Together, the players associations constitute a very significant movement. World Players unites 85,000 professional athletes through more than 100 player and athlete associations based in more than 60 countries. Some of our affiliated player associations are among the world’s strongest labour organizations and are major businesses in their own right.

“Since at least the early 1960s, our movement has been instrumental in ensuring that the fundamental rights of players at work have been respected. Our movement is now championing racial justice, gender equality, the rights of child athletes and, indeed, the internationally recognized human rights of everyone impacted by sport, including workers, local communities, media representatives, fans and vulnerable groups. Player associations have taken strong action to address abuse and support victims.

“We believe that on a platform of the right to organize and collective bargaining, it is possible for players to achieve systemic change. This belief is elevated by the outcomes being achieved by players at the bargaining table and through their activism.

“To enact this belief, our movement must ensure we are culturally attuned to the needs and diversity of all players who have the right to belong to our movement, the responsibilities of representation, and how which we exercise leverage.

“The players association movement is the gateway to the fulfilment of human rights in and through sport.”

020: The world of sport is bending towards justice

World Players’ decision to make a constitutional commitment to human rights comes when the trajectory of global sport is bending towards justice:

  • On 10 December 2020, United States athletes – seeking recognition of their right to freedom of expression – reiterated calls from independent athlete organizations in 2019 for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to itself make a commitment to human rights in the Olympic Charter. In doing so, they have followed the longstanding advocacy of World Players which earlier proposed an ‘8th Fundamental Principle of Olympism’ to read:
  • The Olympic Movement is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights

On 2 December, independent human rights experts Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Rachel Davis also recommended this commitment be made by the IOC as part of the development of an IOC human rights strategy.

  • On 16 December, the General Court of the European Union confirmed in the case of the International Skating Union that the imposition of severe sanctions on athletes for exercising their right to work and compete are in breach of EU law. The decision is the culmination of a determined six-year struggle by Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt who have been extensively supported by EU Athletes, an affiliate of World Players.  It comes at the time of the 25th anniversary of Jean Marc Bosman’s famous legal victory at the European Court of Justice which, with the support of FIFPRO, achieved freedom of movement and greatly enhanced the career path of professional footballers.
  • On 8 December, a key report was released recommending that the Canadian government take steps to protect athletes from abuse in accordance with internationally recognized human rights standards and practices. This follows various initiatives where governments are increasingly addressing the abuse of athletes through the correct lenses of human rights, restorative justice and the empowerment of athletes.  World Players has supported its affiliates and partners in these ongoing efforts, including AthletesCAN, the Australian Athletes Alliance (AAA) and New Zealand Athletes Federation (NZAF).
  • On 7 December, following extensive advocacy from the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, World Players and partners in the Sport & Rights Alliance, the IOC sanctioned senior officials in Belarusian sport, including the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko. The sanctions were imposed following extensive evidence that Lukashenko’s regime was targeting athlete activists who spoke out against electoral fraud and human rights abuse in the country. This included former WNBA player, Yelena Leuchanka, who was unlawfully detained for 15 days in October after bravely speaking out.
  • In September, athlete activists throughout the world courageously led by Sally Roberts, spoke out to attempt to prevent the execution of wrestler, Navid Afkari, by the Iranian regime. The expert evidence overwhelmingly shows that Navid was targeted because of his high profile as an athlete and was deprived of his fundamental human rights. Despite this, Navid was executed by the regime. World Players and those who fought for him remain determined to ensure that no other athlete suffers this horrific fate and that Navid’s death is not without justice or consequence.
  • In August, and throughout the Northern hemisphere summer, there was a global wave of athlete activism in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, that was especially strong in North America. Although this came to a head with player boycotts, affiliates of World Players – including the NBPA, WNBPA, NFLPA and MLBPA along with FIFPRO members in Europe – have committed to negotiating ‘social justice agreements’ to ensure that the much-needed societal change required is meaningful and lasting.
  • In July, a key report “I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count” was launched by Human Rights Watch in partnership with World Players and its Japanese affiliate, the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association (JPBPA). The report documented Japan’s history of corporal punishment in sport and made a number of significant recommendations to protect child athletes. These included ensuring proper reporting and monitoring of complaints, establishing remedies for athletes, and means of deterring abuse.
  • Following the global shutdown of the professional sport industry due to Covid-19 from March to May, World Players and its affiliates worked collectively to ensure that sport firstly met its public health responsibilities and then to ensure that players could return to work and play as safely as possible. This included negotiating sophisticated collective bargaining agreements that incorporated detailed health and safety protocols, and measures to address the acute economic impacts to support sport recovering and rebuilding. The fundamental importance of prioritizing the health and wellbeing of athletes first was highlighted in March when World Players and other athlete groups successfully called upon the IOC to postpone the Tokyo Olympics following initial reluctance.
  • In January,  World Players led a delegation of player association leaders who gathered from across the globe for the historic inaugural International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the World of Sport. The extensively negotiated points of consensus made clear that athletes, like all other workers, must have their rights respected, protected and upheld in accordance with ILO standards. The points of consensus also helped inform the subsequent recommendations to the IOC regarding its human rights strategy.

World Players: Commitment to building partnerships to ensure the legitimacy of sport

World Players is acutely aware that sport, despite its power to be a force for good, is still causing or associated with severe human and athlete rights harms which continue to undermine its legitimacy. The World Assembly acknowledged much more work is required by the players association movement and all stakeholders to ensure that human and athlete rights are fully embedded in global sport. The commitment of World Players to work in partnership with the IOC to realize the recommendations for an IOC human rights strategy by 2024 was restated.

Advancing dialogue and the rights of athletes with the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), other sport governing bodies and key stakeholders will be key priorities for World Players and affiliates throughout 2021. The importance of ensuring access to remedy for all affected by the delivery of global sport is one area that requires urgent action and special attention. World Players will continue to play a leadership role in the development of the Centre for Sport & Human Rights to help it realize its vision of a world of sport which is fully aligned with the fundamental principles of human dignity, human rights and labour rights.


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