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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sport and human rights

06 July 2023


Side event – 53rd session of the Human Rights Council: Sport: a driver of inclusion and a vector for promoting human rights in the world


Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif


Room XXVII, Palais des Nations, Geneva

Acknowledge co-sponsors - the Permanent Missions of France, Greece, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the UN in Geneva. The initiative is timely and welcome, as we commemorate of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sport is anchored in human rights values. It promotes fairness, non-discrimination, respect, and equal opportunities for all. As it reaches billions, including young people, it is a conduit for societal change through empowerment and inclusion.

Recognising its potential, the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development has elevated sport as an essential element of development and peace.

But sport also faces many challenges. Available research and data highlight repeated instances of racism, in sport across the globe, of exclusion, and of compounded discrimination.

Women and girls, often deprived of their right to public participation, in general, face huge gender gaps in sport – from pay packages and sponsorship opportunities to venue selection for women’s games and locker room facilities, to egregious sexual abuse of young athletes.

Since 2012, our Office has worked to eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination in sport, including in the context of the Human Rights Council and its Inter-Governmental Working Group on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Racism and bigotry in sport is not new and it affects all sports – it needs to be addressed decisively at the institutional level.

States bear the primary responsibility for countering racism and discrimination. They should strengthen national legal frameworks and adopt preventive, educational and awareness-raising measures as key to changing behaviours, mindsets and ultimately to root out racism and discrimination.

While prevention is essential, the perpetrators of racist or other violent incidents, whenever they occur, should be held to account.

Sport associations, clubs and governing bodies also have a unique role to play to protect human rights.

By ensuring that the message of zero tolerance for racism and xenophobia is clear.

By developing frameworks and action plans to fight racism and discrimination, sexual and other forms of exploitation or abuse, with the participation of those directly affected – athletes, communities, workers, volunteers and officials, journalists, and fans.

By being inclusive and making sure that athletes in all their diversity take part in events.

The governance, organization and management of sports should also align with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Several international sports federations recognized their responsibilities in line with the UNGPs and are seeking to embed respect for human rights in various ways.

I trust that these major hosting opportunities for France and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be leveraged as unique opportunities to uphold the Olympic ideal. They should provide a platform for people to set aside differences and celebrate shared values – an opportunity for cultural exchanges and understanding, fostering citizenship, solidarity and global cooperation, as people from different backgrounds come together to compete honestly, test their endurance and celebrate hard-earned achievements.

The social and physical roles of sport are especially relevant today, in a global context marked by discrimination, insecurity and violence. We believe in the transformative power of sport – and are fully committed to working together to harness that power for the promotion and protection of human rights for everyone, everywhere.