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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sporting Chance Forum

Sports events and human rights

30 November 2017

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

30 November 2017

Minister Baeriswyl,
Honorary Chair,
Distinguished panellists,
Excellencies, Colleagues, friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this year’s Sporting Chance Forum; to take stock of the progress which has been achieved through the Platform for Mega Sporting Events and Human Rights; and to reflect on how to further strengthen our efforts.

My Office has been actively engaged in the Mega Sporting Events Platform from the outset, with representation both in the Advisory Group and the Steering Committee. I want to acknowledge the efforts of all the organisations involved in working towards aligning the world of sport with international human rights law, and related standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

At its best, sport is an inspiring celebration of human prowess and grace; it is generous-hearted and fundamentally multicultural. Sport contributes to physical and mental wellbeing, and provides opportunities for overcoming personal challenges – for example, for persons with disabilities who engage in sports. It promotes cooperation and empowerment; thus the space for women's sports is growing, for example in Afghanistan's annual marathon, where participation of women and girls has almost doubled every year. Sport can play a significant role in inspiring children and teenagers to greater achievement, and to act fairly to each other. Massive sporting events may also contribute to economic development.

But sport can also produce harmful outcomes. Everyone in this room is aware of cases in which sports 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 all too common, in and off the sports field.

These abuses require an effective response. Some sports organisations are actively seeking to better manage human rights risks associated with their events, and I welcome these initiatives. In June, FIFA became the first sport governing body to adopt a human rights policy. In October, the Commonwealth Games Federation issued its human rights policy statement. The International Olympic Committee has modified its Host City Contract for 2024, so that it includes explicit obligations consistent with human rights principles. UEFA and FIFA have incorporated human rights criteria in their bidding requirements for future events.

In all these developments, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide the framework for expected action and accountability, while the Sporting Chance Principles adopted at last year's Forum have provided a sound framework for the ongoing work of the MSE Platform. Today's Forum is an opportunity to further scale up our efforts to ensure that mega-sporting events are grounded in human dignity and respect for human rights. Thus my Office has joined the announcement of our joint intention to work towards establishing an independent Centre for Sport and Human Rights.

But while we rightly focus on the role of sports organisations in upholding human rights, we should not forget the duties of States. States are required to ensure that vulnerable populations are not arbitrarily evicted and left without shelter – whether by mega sports events or any other construction project. States are required to ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their essential watchdog role, and for human rights defenders to operate peacefully without fear. States and sports organisations have distinct but complementary obligations and responsibilities, and States may not abdicate or duck their human rights obligations.

All of us here are committed to ensuring that sport expresses the best of humanity. I remind you that in a few days, my Office will kick off a year-long celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which, perhaps the most resonant and beautiful words of any international agreement, declares that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". The commitments made by all States in the Universal Declaration discrediting the tyranny, discrimination and contempt for human beings that have scarred human history. And this Forum constitutes one of many thousands of examples of enduring relevance of these values of dignity, equality and rights. I invite you all to join us in our celebrations, as we stand up for the rights of all human beings and work to build a better global community for us all.

The world today is like a sports field, with all its drama, human interactions, artistry and skill on show — governed by rules which are now being threatened by those who want to overturn the rules, and invade the field, if you will, through their extremism. Violent extremism, in the case of the most horrific groups. But also there are the populists — political hooligans who through their incitement — which is the equivalent of hurling racist insults, throwing bottles onto the field, attacking the referee and, as we saw yesterday, spreading hatred through tweets — seek to scramble our order, our laws. Over time, they cast us, place us, before great uncertainty.

And so I invite you to join us in this campaign of defiance, against bigotry, chauvinism, hatred, xenophobia, racism, anti-demotion and Islamophobia, as we stand up for the rights of all human beings

Thank you