Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities: Participation in sport under Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

05 March 2021

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights

46th session of the Human Rights Council

5 March 2021

Madam President,
Distinguished panellists,
Dear Friends,

The participation of persons with disabilities in physical activity and sport is an important and timely issue.

Sport contributes powerfully to an individual's health and well-being. It reinforces inclusion in the community and complements an enormous spectrum of broader physical activities in daily life, including through recreation and leisure. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes the role of sport and physical activities in fostering inclusion – and we should increase our efforts to make their social, emotional and health benefits available, equally, to persons with disabilities.

Achieving equal access for all to sports and physical activities will require sound planning.

Companies and institutions involved in the tourism, recreational and well-being sectors will require guidance, encouragement and regulation to become more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.

Local governments have a particularly important role to play in transforming people's access to sports facilities and other services, and mayors and municipalities should receive specific support to make their communities more inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Children are the key to building inclusive societies for the future, and I call on Members States to ensure that inclusive physical education is a right guaranteed for all children. Children with disabilities should be enabled to play and practice sports with other children – both in and out of schools.  To change negative attitudes, the most effective tactic is always real-life, first-hand experience, and children who have opportunities to build friendships with persons with disabilities are better prepared to counter stigma and discrimination throughout their lives.


Athletes can be powerful symbols of courage, discipline, fairness and the celebration of our shared humanity.

The Paralympic Games have been spectacularly successful in driving attention to the athletic achievements of persons with disabilities. I am delighted to announce that my Office is working in partnership with the International Paralympic Committee – and I invite all other sports organizations to become active agents of change for disability rights.

Athletes with disabilities should enjoy the same level of support as all other athletes, so that they, too, can excel. States and sports organizations should increase their efforts to address existing inequalities, ensuring access to appropriate assistive technologies and financial support. The participation of persons with disabilities as organizers, spectators, referees, athletes, community leaders and entrepreneurs will be transformational for this sector. States and sports organizations that embrace human rights should include measurable targets and assessments of their progress in achieving disability rights.

We also need much stronger efforts to promote gender equality. The underrepresentation of women and girls with disabilities, both on and off the field, is unacceptable. We also need increased support for sports for indigenous people with disabilities, and for inclusive sports in humanitarian settings. Safeguards to prevent disability- and gender-based violence and abuse will be essential to these efforts, and safety and equality must guide every aspect of this work.

Madam President,

Before our distinguished panellists begin their discussion, allow me to note OHCHR's adoption of our first Disability Rights Strategy, with effect across all our operations and programming. The Office will report on its performance to this Council at the 47th session.

We have also launched the SDG-CRPD resource package, which includes practical guidance and tools to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals will deliver for persons with disabilities, in line with the Convention. I thank the European Union for its support, and encourage all States and stakeholders to make use of this package to guide your work. My Office stands ready to assist.

We continue to strengthen our efforts to mainstream disability rights throughout national and global responses to COVID-19 and I am determined to step up this work in 2021. Whether in the context of vaccination campaigns, protection of socio-economic rights, promoting support measures, or rebuilding from the damage the pandemic has generated, my Office will continue promoting non-discriminatory practices that reflect persons with disabilities' specific realities – and rights.

Thank you Madam President.