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Council holds panel discussion on the use of sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all

Human Rights Council 
AFTERNOON 

28 June 2016

The Human Rights Council today held a panel discussion on the use of sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that sports could be a strong force for equality and diversity, and noted that in 2016, 10 athletes would be competing in the Olympics as a team of refugees.  Their participation might inspire a new understanding of the rights of millions of people caught up in crises around the world, for whom what was at stake was not medals or glory, but the right to life, safety and dignity. 

Miki Matheson, Project Manager at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre and three-time Paralympic gold medallist in ice sledge speed racing, said that para-sports could foster equality, fairness and inclusion, and contribute to conflict resolution.  Unfortunately, in many cases, para-sports were not easily accessible to many people, because of limited infrastructure, poor understanding, narrow perceptions, limited policy implementation and lack of leadership. 

Tania Braga, Head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy at the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said that suppliers, sponsors and licensees had to ensure that the work environment and conditions for employees or contractors in the workplace used to manufacture goods or supply services for the Games met the minimum requirements set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, and complied with national and other applicable law.    

Andrey Strokin, Secretary General of the Russian Paralympic Committee and five-time Paralympic gold medallist in swimming, said that sports were an effective means for strengthening human rights.  As for the role of the Paralympic games in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, they were a driver of social changes, as evident during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.  It was unacceptable to use athletes as a means to influence international relations.  Sports should be outside politics.

Stavroula Kozompoli, International Olympic Committee Marketing Commission Member and Olympic silver medallist in water polo, said that legislation on its own could not ensure the elimination of discrimination in every aspect of life and against all forms of diversity.  Sports had the potential to promote the idea of a society with no human rights violations.  Thus, sports and human rights were intertwined. 

John Morrison, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, said that few sporting events took place without some negative human rights impacts, such as forced evictions due to land clearances, restrictions on freedom of expression, and corruption at the local and international level.  A group of governments, international agencies, sports bodies, trade unions and non-governmental organizations, among others, were working together to make mega sporting events a celebration of human rights in every sense. 

During the ensuing discussion it was noted that sports could contribute to tolerance and peace, and could empower persons with disabilities, and that sports and the media had a role to play to raise awareness on accessibility. Some underlined that sports should not be used for political purposes, while others, with a view to human rights abuses linked to mega sporting events, noted that global sporting events could only be truly successful and legitimate if they did not harm the hosting population.

Speaking during the debate were Qatar on behalf of the Group of Friends of Sport for Development and Peace, European Union, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Greece on behalf of the main Sponsors of the resolution on “Promoting Human Rights through sports and the Olympic Ideal”, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, United States, Egypt, Malaysia, Bahamas Maldives, Russian Federation, Austria, Council of Europe, Spain, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom, Iran, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Sudan, Japan, Lebanon, Holy See, Italy, Viet Nam, Switzerland, China, and the International Olympic Committee.

Scottish Human Rights Commission took the floor, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights Watch, Terre des Hommes Federation Internationale, International Service for Human Rights (joint statement), Iraqi Development Organization (joint statement), and the Arab Commission for Human Rights.

The Council will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 June to hold an interactive dialogue on Ukraine, followed by an interactive dialogue on Burundi. 

Opening Statements

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, explained that, in an effort to render the Human Rights Council more accessible to persons with disabilities and to allow them to participate in the work of the Council on an equal basis with others, the upcoming panel discussion would be made accessible to persons with disabilities.  During the debate, international sign interpretation and captioning would be provided and webcast.  Physical accessibility would be promoted by making the room facilities wheel-chair friendly, and braille printing would be available on demand.  He also noted that the “Accessibility Guide to the Human Rights Council for Persons with Disabilities” was available in the room, as well as on the website of the Council.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that sports could be a strong force for equality and diversity.  Sporting values of fairness and equality matched human rights messages.  The panel offered a timely opportunity to look at ways the international community could use the almost universal appeal of sports to amplify human rights messages and reach out to the millions of fans.  Noting the ongoing European Cup, he said that for a continent shaken by a fear of foreigners, the success of players with roots from all over the world spoke more for integration than many lectures could have.  But discrimination and intolerance were still too common in sports, and girls and women were often prevented from participating in sports at all.  He noted that his Office had engaged with the Russian sports authorities to ensure that appropriate policies and steps would be an integral part of the preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

People with disabilities frequently encountered major obstacles to their participation in sports, with sports organizations routinely refusing to enable them to train for, or participate in, competitive and recreational sports activities.  He urged authorities at every level to do more to integrate human rights so children and adults learned to value and respect human diversity.  Major sporting events had very frequently been associated with serious violations of international labour standards and human rights.  The situation needed to be turned around.  States had a duty to protect human rights, and sports associations and other actors had a responsibility to respect human rights.  They needed to ensure that human rights were not harmed through their activities.  He noted that in 2016, 10 athletes would be competing in the Olympics as a team of refugees, and added that he would be applauding their resilience and fortitude.  High Commissioner Zeid expressed hope that their participation might inspire a new understanding of the rights of millions of people caught up in crises around the world, for whom what was at stake was not medals or glory, but the right to life, safety and dignity.

Statements by the Panellists

MIKI MATHESON, Project Manager at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre and three-time Paralympic gold medallist in ice sledge speed racing, said that the Paralympic Games could be used to promote awareness and understanding on human rights, as they were a driving force for innovation and inclusion.  Para-athletes had been actively encouraging innovation in the area of sporting equipment, which could remove barriers for the right to play and to participate in sports.  Paralympic Games sent a strong message that equality and inclusion could be achieved through little creativity and modification.  Para-sports could also foster equality, fairness and inclusion, and contribute to conflict resolution.  Sports had a unique ability to attract and inspire people, and to be a tool to educate populations on self-discipline, hard work, determination, problem-solving skills, integrity, honesty, teamwork, inter alia.  Unfortunately, in many cases, para-sports were not easily accessible to many people, because of limited infrastructure, poor understanding, narrow perceptions, limited policy implementation and lack of leadership.  Ms. Matheson mentioned a Japanese Government initiative called “Sport for Tomorrow”, which aimed to spread values learned through sports and increase awareness of the Olympic and Paralympic movement worldwide.  This was a great example of how sporting events such as the Paralympic and Olympic Games were helpful in a human rights context as they encouraged the integration of people regardless of age, race, gender, nationality, religion, politics, physical or mental condition, marital status or sexual orientation.

TANIA BRAGA, Head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy at the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said that the Organizing Committee supported human rights and the guidelines of the United Nations Global Compact Initiative.  In the corporate sphere, it protected freedom of association and the right to collective bargain for Rio 2016 employees, worked against all forms of corruption, and combatted discrimination in respect to employment.  The Ethics and Conduct Committee was the internal mechanism for reporting on labour rights issues.  The supply-chain human rights actions included stewardship on issues such as freedom of association, right to collective bargain, effective abolition of child labour, elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour, elimination of discrimination in respect to employment and occupation, and work against all forms of corruption.  Suppliers, sponsors and licensees had to ensure that the work environment and conditions for employees or contractors in the workplace used to manufacture goods or supply services for the Games met the minimum requirements set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, and complied with national and other applicable law.  The Organizing Committee was working to deliver a Games experience accessible to everybody, regardless of any physical impairment or mobility restriction, including through quotas of tickets for persons with an impairment, accessible hotels, transport, stadiums, and communication tools. 
 
ANDREY STROKIN, Secretary General of the Russian Paralympic Committee and five-time Paralympic gold medallist in swimming, said that sports were one of the human rights.  Sports influenced not only human development but ensured respect for the other person.  If sports were seen as an opportunity of interaction, then they should be open to everyone.  It could not be just elite sports.  Sports were an effective means for strengthening human rights.  Sports for the masses rather than for elites played an important role in that respect.  Persons with disabilities in the Russian Federation did not have the facilities to train sports in the past.  However, there had been major structural changes recently.   All Paralympic sports had been given proper facilitates and television programmes often broadcast Paralympic competitions.  Decisive measures were needed to combat doping in sports.  However, in no way should those measures impede on the rights of individual athletes who had not taken drugs.  It was unacceptable to use athletes as a means to influence international relations - sports should be outside politics.  

STAVROULA KOZOMPOLI, International Olympic Committee Marketing Commission Member and Olympic silver medallist in water polo, stated that the vision of a society without discrimination, which would provide equal opportunities to all its citizens, seemed distant and formidable against merciless reality nowadays.  Legislation on its own could not ensure the elimination of discrimination in every aspect of life and against all forms of diversity.  Thus a broader framework of action was necessary to achieve the required changes for a truly equal society, without exclusions but with full safeguarding of basic human rights.  Sports had the potential to promote the idea of a society with no human rights violations.  Starting from the fight against racism, sexism, diversity and stereotypes of any kind, until the claim of sport itself as a basic right and a public good, human rights had a major role in the sporting system, which was often undermined.  The Olympic values of respect, friendship and excellence prepared the ground for their broad implementation and adoption.  It was necessary to support small ideas and actions, and adopt them through larger bodies of civil society, such as States, national, regional and international sports organizations in order to multiply their positive effect. 

JOHN MORRISON, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, said that sports were a celebration of humanity, common dignity and respect for all peoples.  Sports were a right that every global region should share in that legacy.  The playing field needed to be levelled not just for the sake of athletes, but also for the workers building the stadiums and the communities living around the venues themselves.  Few sporting events took place without some negative human rights impacts, such as forced evictions due to land clearances, restrictions on freedom of expression, and corruption at the local and international level.  Over the past two years, a number of international sports bodies had made explicit commitments to moving the human rights agenda forward.  Under the chairmanship of Mary Robinson, a group of Governments, international agencies, sports bodies, trade unions and non-governmental organizations, among others, were working together to make mega sporting events a celebration of human rights in every sense. 

Discussion

Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Sport for Development and Peace, said that sports could contribute to tolerance and peace, and could empower persons with disabilities.  Discriminatory practices, lack of resources and stereotypes remained challenges for the participation of persons with disabilities in sports.  European Union stated that athletes with disabilities were role models for all, and sports and the media had a role to play to raise awareness on accessibility.  European Union stressed the importance of non-discrimination, and expressed concerns about human rights violations in the context of organizing sports events, corruption, doping, vandalism and violence.  Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, asked what measures States could take to bring down barriers faced by persons with disabilities for their participation in sports events.  The Community reiterated its commitment to build opportunities through sports to promote social inclusion, combat poverty and inequality, and prevent violence.  Greece, speaking on behalf of the main sponsors of the resolution on “Promoting Human Rights through sports and the Olympic Ideal”, said that this session’s resolution would address the need for an increased participation of women in sports events, the issue of discrimination in sports, and the positive role of education.  It highlighted the importance of tolerance, diversity, fair play and solidarity in promoting human rights, peace and development.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recognized the centrality of youth, and fully supported development through sports, although much remained to be done in terms of infrastructure.  The African Group underscored the imperative of using sports as a means of prevention and fight against racism, discrimination and stigmatization. 

Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said that sports played an important role in promoting human rights by fostering non-discrimination and social inclusion for all.  The Community Sports Games, which had begun in 1990, had an objective to promote sports and strengthen the Community.  United States noted that sports events could also lead to adverse human rights impact for persons with disabilities, journalists and social media users, migrant workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women and children, racial minorities and indigenous communities.  Egypt underlined that sports competitions could have significant potential in promoting human rights, especially in areas such as combatting racism and promoting tolerance, eradicating poverty and advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Malaysia stated that the promotion of goodwill, healthy competition, teamwork and fairness through sports had been instrumental in its efforts to cultivate national unity, tolerance, understanding, social integration and the general wellbeing among citizens. 

Bahamas said that the Olympic ideals found their basis in an ancient Greek tradition that a spirit of peace could prevail over war.  Sports were enshrined in the Bahamas’ priority for sustainable economic development through sports-based tourism.  Maldives noted that without a doubt the practice of sports had become a fundamental human right.  A right which required mutual understanding exercised in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.  Russian Federation said that sports should not be used for political purposes, expressing support for the need to respect sporting ethics in all aspects, including by abiding by anti-corruption and anti-doping standards.

Scottish Human Rights Commission, in a video message, spoke about the human rights policy of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which had set out how human rights were to be protected and promoted in the preparation and delivery of the Games.  Human Rights Watch said that for more than a decade, the organization had documented human rights abuses linked to mega sporting events, detailing violations at the 2008 Beijing Games, the 2014 Sochi Games, the 2015 Baku European Games, and looking ahead to the 2022 Qatar World Cup, where migrant workers toiled in dangerous and deadly conditions. Terre Des Hommes Fédération Internationale, in a joint statement with Defence for Children International; Vienna Institute for Development and Cooperation; and Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, in a joint statement, warned that the International Olympic Committee risked becoming more entangled with human rights abuses unless it acted urgently to change the way it awarded the Olympics, adding that global sporting events could only be truly successful and legitimate if they did not harm the hosting population. 

Remarks by the Panellists

MIKI MATHESON, Project Manager at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre and three-time Paralympic gold medallist in ice sledge speed racing, said that the hosting of Paralympics would give an opportunity to discuss human rights issues faced by persons with disabilities, and would contribute to change perceptions.  The main problem was the lack of opportunities for women and persons with disabilities.  It was important to emphasize the role model aspects of para-athletes, including women, and to create opportunities through the construction of accessible venues.  The most important thing was to keep on listening to persons with disabilities, and adjust to the challenges facing them.  

TANIA BRAGA, Head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy at the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, stated that the main challenge was the complexity in organizing such sport events.  It was important to bring all stakeholders together in efforts to move towards the right direction.  Urban violence in Brazilian cities was an issue that was much broader than the Games, and the two were not necessarily related.  Evicted families had received appropriate alternative solutions or compensation.  Regarding the role of sports in promoting human rights, she said that the most important legacy was intangible and invisible.  Sports indeed changed mind-sets, and helped people realize what they had in common.  The Games were an opportunity for human rights issues to be high on the agenda and to be discussed publicly. 

ANDREY STROKIN, Secretary General of the Russian Paralympic Committee and five-time Paralympic gold medallist in swimming, stressed the importance of ensuring unhindered access for persons with disabilities to all sporting facilities.  The Paralympic Games in Sochi had successfully achieved that, and the experience had led persons with disabilities to be fully integrated in the society.  It was important to hold events for persons with disabilities jointly with events for “fully-healthy athletes”. 

STAVROULA KOZOMPOLI, International Olympic Committee Marketing Commission Member and Olympic silver medallist in water polo, referred to doping, corruption and other harmful practices in sports, and said that more could be done to prevent those.  Education was an important aspect of it.  Major sports events could unite people all across the world.  Moreover, they could be used to promote human rights, accessibility, employment, education, and women’s empowerment. 

JOHN MORRISON, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, said that the Glasgow Games of 2014 were the first sports events explicitly incorporating human rights in their charters, which left an important legacy in the city.  Tolerance, non-discrimination and solidarity should be encouraged as fundamental principles both for athletes and the populations.  He underlined the important role of sponsors, and noted the necessity to learn from vulnerable populations. 

Discussion
 
Austria said that mega sporting events had a tremendous impact on billions of people among the world and had the potential to play a key role in the promotion of peace and reconciliation.  The credibility and sustainability of mega sporting events depended on the ability of key stakeholders – sports associations, host States, and others – to apply international norms.  In order to tackle violence during and around sports events, the Council of Europe had just adopted a new convention on an integrated safety, security and service approach at football matches, which would be opened for signatures on 3 July 2016.  Spain said sports were one of the best ways to tackle racism and discrimination and promote ethical values in the society, and warned that mass sporting events must not be used as platforms to spread racist and hate messages. 

Nigeria said that the Olympic ideal could serve as a basis for championing human rights for all and could also be used to curb racism and racial discrimination.  South Africa echoed the words of the late Nelson Mandela who had said that sport had the power to change the world, the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else could, and said that South Africa was very proud that its Paralympic team had consistently finished near the top of the medal table at every Summer Paralympic Games since the country had been re-admitted after the end of apartheid.

United Kingdom applied the principle of sports for all in organizing the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games and said that raising participation in sports of persons with disabilities and females was a priority.  The United Kingdom had just adopted new sports strategy that would target groups with traditionally lower participation rates.  Iran was promoting human rights goals in sports through associations such as the Sport Federation for Disabled Persons and the Paralympic Committee, and had taken many steps to combat vandalism, to combat discrimination against women in and outside of sports, and to work with famous  athletes for children.  Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, appreciated the value of sports in combatting racism and racial discrimination, adding that sports provided excellent grounds for the promotion and protection of human rights of all, and in particular persons with disabilities.  Sudan asked the panellists about the best practices to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in all sports activities.

Japan said that it gave due consideration to human rights and inclusiveness in the organization of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.  It had been implementing a “Sport for Tomorrow” initiative, which aimed to increase awareness worldwide on the values channelled through sports.  Lebanon believed that sports practice fostered young people’s physical and mental health, and it promoted tolerance, respect for the other and gender equality.  Holy See said that the Rio Games were an opportunity to shine a light on how sports could contribute to the promotion of human rights.  The Olympic Charter posed the defence of dignity, solidarity and non-discrimination at its centre.  Social and ethical values should always be put at the centre of sport events. 

International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement, condemned serious violations perpetrated in the context of the Rio Olympic Games, and reprisals against activists advocating against these practices.  Violations included forced evictions, corruption, restrictions on civil liberties and exclusion.  Iraqi Development Organization, in a joint statement, remained concerned about the death of more than 1,000 migrant workers in Qatar, and underlined the deploring working conditions there.  Similarly, the Formula 1 race in Bahrain was perceived as a way for the Government of Bahrain to wash up its violations.  In Saudi Arabia, women were prevented and sometimes banned from participating in sports.  Arab Commission for Human Rights said that sports used to be an instrument for combatting racism, but regretted that today, sports were mostly a profitable business far from the values they sought to defend.  It underlined the importance of education, and of a better balance in the representation of nations and continents in sports events. 

Italy said that sports were a fundamental expression of the right to play, and asked how sports education could contribute within the framework of human rights education?  Viet Nam said that sports were an important enabler of development and noted that the practice of sports and sporting events carried educational messages.  However, many persons with disabilities in developing countries were still struggling to gain access to sports for all.  Switzerland said that sometimes the organization of sporting events was fraught with risks of human rights violations which might be prevented, such as labour exploitation and poor management of public money, which were effects in contradiction with values that sports should convey.  China said that its Government had undertaken to promote key values of the Olympic ideal, and welcomed the Council’s interest in sport and inclusiveness.

International Olympic Committee said that it had invested in sports for development and peace for over 20 years, and noted that for the first time, a refugee team was competing in the games to promote the human rights of a disenfranchised group. 

Concluding Remarks

MIKI MATHESON, Project Manager at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre and three-time Paralympic gold medallist in ice sledge speed racing, recalled the four core Paralympic values of courage, inspiration, determination and equality, and said that Paralympians could promote human rights by standing for participation in sports and advocating for embracing diversity and promoting equality.

TANIA BRAGA, Head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy at the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said that businesses had a major role to play in sporting events, as broadcasters, suppliers of services and equipment, etc., and said that it was important to have a common standard for different industries involved.  That common standard was missing today and this was the major challenge for sports organizers.  With regard to the participation of persons with disabilities in sports, Ms. Braga agreed on the points raised by the delegates, namely the necessity of creating role models, giving more exposure to Paralympics and Paralympic athletes so that they could touch people with their sports and life achievements, and the necessity to have more events of mixed events in which Olympic and Paralympic athletes could compete together.

ANDREY STROKIN, Secretary General of the Russian Paralympic Committee and five-time Paralympic gold medallist in swimming, underlined the importance of allowing people to move freely, communicate and share thoughts.  Paralympians in Russia were considered on an equal ground with other athletes.  Paralympic Games were broadcast in the country, and a lot of people came out to show interest in what they were seeing on television. 

STAVROULA KOZOMPOLI, International Olympic Committee Marketing Commission Member and Olympic silver medallist in water polo, said that she visited schools often to educate children about equality, respect and tolerance.  Athletes could be role models, and participate in the protection and promotion of human rights. 

JOHN MORRISON, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, underlined the importance of communities being involved and benefiting from events.  The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were the starting point for the conversation.  Sports bodies had to prevent harm, and to ensure that remedy was provided.  The human supply-chain of sports could also include women or children facing abuse.  Sponsors and athletes needed to be aware of this. 

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, in closing remarks, said that the values of sports matched human rights principles.  Concerns existed as regards racism, discrimination, hooliganism, and lack of accessibility.  Sports could bring people together, and channel values of tolerance, mutual respect and multi-culturalism. 

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