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Social Forum: Sports, the Olympic Ideal and Human Rights

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

1 October 2018

Distinguished President of the Council,
Distinguished Chair,
President of the International Paralympic Committee,
Colleagues, friends 

I am delighted to be present at the Social Forum, which is unique in enabling such close and detailed engagement by the Council with grassroots movements and civil society organizations.

This year's theme takes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into what might at first seem an unexpected direction – sports, and the Olympic ideal.

But sports are about fairness and equal opportunities, without discrimination. They promote cooperation and empowerment – and they are fundamentally multi-cultural.

Furthermore, sports can become a powerful tool for integration. When a newcomer to a country becomes a top athlete, that success inspires respect. But it is not just about a few stars. The integration of many migrants into a new society – including women, and people from vulnerable groups – often begins with the language of sports.

Sports can also play a significant role in inspiring children and teenagers to overcome challenges together, and to act fairly to each other.

And their ubiquity, and enormous popularity, can help us spread the core human rights messages of equality, dignity and respect.

But sport can also produce harmful outcomes.

In some cases, mega sporting events have caused whole communities to be evicted – frequently, communities that were already vulnerable and marginalised.

People exercising their rights to peacefully protest around sports events have been subjected to intimidation and violence, as have journalists seeking to expose corruption and other wrongdoing.

Investigations have also documented severe exploitation and abuses of migrant workers involved in the construction of sports venues.

And discrimination and racism are shockingly common, on and off the sports field.

These abuses require a strong and effective response. I welcome efforts to put a spotlight on these threats to human rights.

A number of sports organisations and governing bodies are actively engaged in initiatives to better manage human rights risks associated with their events.

My Office is working very actively in the area of racism, non-discrimination and sport. We engaged with a number of partners in the Russian Federation to help ensure that the recent FIFA World Cup was prepared in line with effective non-discrimination policies.

We continue cooperating with them in order to finalise a “non-discrimination legacy” for that event, which can set an example for other big sports championships.

We are also working with partners preparing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

And of course we are also cooperating with the International Olympic Committee, which helped put this Forum's programme together, and the International Paralympic Committee, whose president, Andrew Parsons, will be speaking soon.

These major championships touch the hearts and minds of millions of people. They can also influence other sports governing bodies to make important changes. I'm very glad we have forged these positive and valuable relationships, which I hope we will deepen in the coming years.

Dear colleagues and friends,

Sport is big business, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a baseline framework for the measures and accountability which everyone, across society, is entitled to expect.

But we also need to attend to its values. We need to stand up for human rights in the context of sports. Every kind of sport, from the Olympics to the schoolyard, needs to embody the fundamental principle of the equal rights of every woman, every man and every child.

I know that all of us here are committed to ensuring that sport expresses the best of humanity. I hope you can help us uncover the best possible strategies to help that happen. I very much look forward to hearing about your discussions during the next three days.

And I thank you all, very warmly, for your interest in this vital and potentially very powerful field of action.