Harnessing the potential of sports for human rights

With a record television audience of over four and a half billion people, the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, confirmed that Olympic and Paralympic Games provide an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to more people than ever before. “In view of the unique media attention attracted,” said UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay “Olympic and Paralympic Games have an enormous potential to promote awareness and understanding of human rights.”

 “Both sports and human rights share many fundamental values and objectives,” said Pillay at a UN Human Rights Council panel discussion on sport and human rights. “It is surprising to note how little interaction there has been so far between the human rights movement, mechanisms and institutions and the world of sport.”

“The principles underpinning the Olympic Charter, such as non-discrimination and equality are the bedrock of human rights as well,” said Jeremy Browne, United Kingdom Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “The principles underpinning the Olympic Charter, such as non-discrimination and equality are the bedrock of human rights as well.”

The Olympic Charter, which regulates the organization of the Olympic Movement, notes that the “goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Sir Keith Mills, Deputy Chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, said that it was possible to use sport as ambassadors for peace and as catalysts for change, particularly for the young people.

Practicing sport can greatly contribute to the development and empowerment of human beings, in particular of social or marginalized groups.  Likewise, sport can assist in building development and peace. In Liberia, for instance, former child soldiers from opposing factions were integrated in rehabilitation centers and placed in mixed football teams involved in a competitive league.

The positive impact of mega sports events, like Olympic Games and the FIFA Football World Cup, also includes the initiation and implementation of major urban projects in host cities.

Carlos Nuzman, President of Rio 2016, said that in preparation to the Rio 2016 Games  structural changes would occur in transport and urban revitalization with the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit systems and the refurbishment of the port region.

However, mega sports events, like the Olympic Games, can also have a negative impact, especially on housing rights.

The UN General Assembly has also expressed concern about “the dangers faced by sportsmen and sportswomen, in particular young athletes, including, inter alia, child labor, violence, doping.”

Furthermore, in a resolution (PDF file) of 2010, the UN Human Rights Council urged States “to prevent, combat and address all manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the context of sporting events.” Overcoming racism in sports remained one of the most urgent tasks of the international community”, said at the panel discussion Vladimir Lukin, Human Rights Ombudsman and President of the Russian Paralympics Committee.

At the panel discussion, Pillay encouraged the organisers of future Olympic Games to pay special attention to the promotion of human rights and stressed that “the International Olympic Committee must assume the moral leadership to ensure that human rights norms are fully integrated and respected in the sporting world”. “In view of the impact of such mega-events, it is essential that human rights implications be duly considered at all stages and by all actors involved.”

The panel discussion, organized to highlight, examine and suggest ways in which sport and major sporting events, in particular the Olympic and Paralympic Games, can be used to promote awareness, understanding and the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was held on 27 February 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event in the world. They are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter Olympic Games, and have the power to influence and set examples for other events, whether relate to sports, culture or other fields. In the Paralympic Games, held immediately following their respective Olympic Games, athletes with physical disabilities compete.

28 February 2012

See also