Engaging people as co-pilots in forging a responsible world of sport
All actors across sport’s ecosystem should become co-pilots in forging a people-centric world of sport, so decision-making in sport is informed by the perspectives of athletes, fans, workers, communities, and human rights experts, particularly people with lived experience of human rights harms, including victims and survivors of sexual abuse, and those marginalised in sport and society. A shift in mindset is needed that puts people at the core.
Leadership and fundamental shifts in culture fuelling positive change
New strategies, policies, standards and laws can help leverage buy-in and can be a springboard to reform but are not an end in themselves. Meaningful change requires leadership and a fundamental shift in organisational culture, based on authenticity – with leaders modelling good behaviour and matching policies to practice when making hard choices, empathy – respecting and learning from the lived experience of victims or whistle-blowers, organisation-wide learning – that builds human resource across the value-chain, and shared accountability – with buy in on human rights at levels, including at the top. Together these can combine to bring an end to harmful practices to people.
Maturing sports leaders are starting to own and learn from mistakes
Sports leaders are starting to gain the courage to show humility. It takes maturity to get comfortable both with celebrating successes and admitting when things go wrong. Sports bodies are starting to move from being defensive when faced with criticism on human right issues, to holding their hands up when things go wrong, being willing to identify systemic lessons and build a true learning culture. This matters because affected persons often feel that their concerns are met with attempts to protect reputation instead of genuine efforts to listen, provide remedy and rectify harm. Sport leaders that seek to avoid difficult conversations risk being blindsided by them, but those that are sincere about building trust and engaging with affected persons, stand to benefit over the long-term.
Breaking down historical power imbalances
It is often the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable in society that are hardest hit by human rights harms – whether linked to sexual abuse cases, poor working conditions, sports gender policies, racism, or the challenges of Covid-19 and the climate crisis. Sport is a trillion-dollar industry with a complex institutional landscape at the national and international levels, but with power to bring people together and promote social justice and champion rights-respecting climate action. Collectively all actors across the sport ecosystem need to do more to break down historical power imbalances and confront traditional assumptions.
Building a responsible Autonomy of Sport
The autonomy of sport is increasingly being seen as a luxury that needs to be earned. As more sexual abuse cases come to light across sports globally; as the physical and mental health of athletes, volunteers, stadium and supply chain workers continue to come under pressure from Covid-19, the climate crises, and pressures to perform; as concerns mount over the safety of journalists reporting in high-risk sports contexts; and as athletes face ongoing obstacles in exercising their freedom of expression, sport is reaching a tipping point. Sport leaders favour self-regulation, and there is an opportunity for federations and associations to hold themselves accountable to their athletes, fans and communities, by assessing the efficacy of metrics to which they’ve signed up and by incentivising good human rights practice. Governments however are coalescing with statements on the relevance of human rights in sport, and may yet act more robustly to hold sports bodies more accountable and to encourage better human rights performance. Across the sport ecosystem collectively we need to forge a new responsible autonomy of sport.
Emerging women’s sport and respecting all women, including non-binary women
All women – cis-gender, trans-women and women with variations in sex characteristics – deserve to have their human rights respected, protected and upheld. Gender is a key issue in sport for development, and as women are starting to occupy more leadership positions in sport, and the growth of women’s sport itself takes hold, there’s an opportunity to foster healthier and more inclusive decision-making in sport and to take on prejudices of all kinds.
Boosting performance through responsible sport and ending harmful practices
Sport has for too long tolerated and normalised practices like punishments, threats of exclusion, humiliation, and extreme physical exertion to spike athlete performance in the short-term, but it can be very damaging, especially when these are mimicked in youth sport, exposing young sportsmen and women to hazardous conditions analogous to child labour. Yet there is mounting evidence that where athletes perform better in a safe environment, free from discrimination, where they are justly compensated, and allowed to organise and collectively bargain, and have longer careers.
No time to lose for Sports Bodies on human rights – but support is available
Sport and human rights is a dynamic space, with measures of success continually being reassessed and improved. Amidst global calls for mandatory due diligence on human rights to create a level playing field for all enterprises, it is imperative that sports bodies and their partners act to respect human and workers rights and safeguarding vulnerable people. Public pressure to see responsible sport is here to stay. It is no longer an option to sit on the side-lines due to fears about not being perfect, or over having to have difficult conversations with affected people or partners. The field is evolving so quickly that if you stand still, you risk moving backwards as the rest of the field accelerates around you. Collective initiatives can offer a safe space for getting started, and larger sports bodies, brands and consortiums are willing to support, including by sharing learning, capacity and insights to help smaller entities and those getting started to take their first small steps. There is no time to lose.