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Quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights throught sport and the Olympic ideal

47th Session of the Human Rights Council
Opening Statement by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ms. Nada Al-Nashif

7 July 2021

Excellencies,
Distinguised panelists
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Olympic ideal is anchored in human rights: it embodies fairness, non-discrimination, respect and equal opportunities for all. Sport promotes human rights values, as they reach billions, including young people. So, this is a very timely discussion as we explore the potential of sport and the unique opportunities it offers to promote human rights for all in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a context of striking inequalities and uncertain recovery.

The pandemic has had a deep impact on youth. One of the key findings of the Global Survey on Youth and COVID-19 undertaken by the International Labour Organisation  (ILO), our Office and the Decent Jobs for Youth Initiative, showed that the right to leisure, including practicing sports, was more markedly affected than any other right during this health crisis. Sixty-eight percent of a total of 12,000 respondents noted that they suffered, ‘significant limitations’ on recreational activities, including in pursuing sport activities. 

Sport presents a unique opportunity to promote young people’s right to participation, for example in sport governance and in decision-making related to sports from the local to the national, regional and international levels.

Non-discrimination includes equal access to sports and sporting facilities for all young people, without distinction. Sport education, decent sport infrastructure and safe spaces for youth to participate in sport are key in this respect.

Sport can also be a unique tool for inclusion of youth in situations of vulnerability, including migrants and refugees.  As we have seen, the participation of refugees in large sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, can inspire millions of children and youth to overcome challenges that they face. The Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics epitomised a very powerful solidarity with the world’s refugees, and I am glad that such a team will participate in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, starting this month. Similarly, the Special Olympics World Winter Games to be held in Kazan, in February 2022, signals the commitment to overcoming isolation as we transmit the incredible spirit of global youth determined to push the limits of personal endurance and achievement.

At the same time, we know that sport and sporting events have the potential to lead to human rights violations or to exacerbate discrimination, sexual and other forms of abuse and exploitation, forced evictions, poor labour conditions, as well as violence against journalists and peaceful protestors, including amongst youth. It is therefore essential that we more consistently and deeply embed human rights considerations into the organisation and management of sport, and of sporting events, particularly ‘mega’ sporting events.

In recent years, our Office has increasingly engaged on human rights opportunities and challenges related to sport. For instance, we harnessed sport as a tool to combat racism and racial discrimination by working with a variety of partners in the Russian Federation in order to ensure that the 2018 FIFA World Cup was prepared in line with effective non-discrimination policies. 

We also collaborated with civil society, sports governing bodies, trade unions, sponsors, ILO, Governments and others to establish the Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018.  This independent Centre provides an excellent platform for collective action involving all stakeholders, including young people, to address sports-related human rights challenges, for example to combat sexual abuse of young athletes. In a similar vein, the UN lead on sport, UNESCO, has been engaged in the design - and soon launch - of a  Global Observatory on Women and Sport, to address longstanding gender-based discrimination.

Fostering citizenship, nurturing solidarity and consolidating peace – this is the transformative power of sport, long may it continue to inspire us all!

Thank you.