Mega-sporting events must not undermine human rights

A human rights based approach to mega sporting events would not just generate good on and off the playing field, but it would also help generate certainty for sponsors, said Brent Wilton, Global Director, Workplace Rights and Human Rights for Coca Cola.

“We want to make sure that when people are inside that stadium and that event kicks off and there is happiness inside, that the people who are outside that stadium are not worse off by not having had their rights respected,” he said.

Wilton was one of several speakers during a panel discussion on identifying solutions to key human rights challenges associated with mega sporting events. The discussion was part of the fourth UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, a three-day conference which brought together more than 2,000 participants to discuss the intersection of human rights and business.

The mega sporting events discussion featured panelists working on events as well as those who sponsor them including FIFA, the Olympic Committee for Tokyo 2020 and Rio 2016. Also included were NGOs and those representing labour and human rights groups.

Through the life cycle of mega sporting events, practically all human rights issues may come up, said John Morrison, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and moderator of the panel.

Sports do not exist in isolation, and those who get involved in sporting events want to make sure that everything that is being done is above board, said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

“There needs to be a framework that is bigger than the event, that guarantees that there are indeed global rules that cover how these events are hosted,” she said.

Tania Braga, Committee Head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy for the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee, called for better continuity between mega events and ensuring that all partners involved are aligned when it comes to human rights and labour issues.

Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability for FIFA, warned against placing unrealistic expectations on mega sporting events to solve the social problems of the host country.

“Mega sporting events are not meant to solve all the issues and problems, even those associated with human rights of the country hosting,” he said.

At the same organizers and companies involved have the responsibility to respect human rights, through explicit commitments and procedures, he said.

The bottom line is that businesses involved in mega-sporting events need to follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, said Puvan Selvanathan of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. This expectation should also be built into contractual frameworks, he said.

26 November 2015


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