Reflections On The 3rd Edition Of The Sport & Human Rights Training Programme

In recent years, organised sport has been increasingly responding to issues and infringements of fundamental human rights. Demands made by athletes and the global community for rights to participation, non-discrimination, and due process have set a new agenda for the sustainability of sport. Nevertheless, asking oneself why human rights? and why in sport? sheds light on understanding the intrinsic human-centered nature of sport and much-needed work in collaborative and educational approaches.

I recently had a rewarding learning experience participating as a scholarship candidate in the third edition of the International Sport and Human Rights Online Summer Programme jointly organised by the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) and T.M.C Asser Institute from May 22nd-24th, and May 27th-29th of 2024. This blog portrays a daily outline and reflections of the programme, addressing topics on athlete advocacy, research, and frameworks for policy making.

Led by Dr. Daniela Heerdt and Dr. Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute, the programme had its first online edition with participants from across the globe. It gathered 41 participants from 23 countries and guest representative speakers from a valuable network of organisations working towards embedding human rights in the Sports Ecosystem. Some of the guest organisations included the CSHR, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIFPRO, FIFA, UEFA, and the World Players Association.

The first day of the programme began with Daniela Heerdt and Antoine Duval setting the scope under the topic ‘Where sport and human rights meet’. This opening session portrayed the emerging frameworks of human rights set by the United Nations and international covenants. The second part of the agenda was delivered by Shubham Jain and William Rook from CSHR, highlighting the role of CSHR in how human rights have been set into practice in modern sports organisations. The first day closed with an open discussion, gathering reflections from participants that would showcase a multidisciplinary environment, eager to learn and reflect upon pressing human rights issues and movements in sports.  

Continuing with the second day, the topic ‘Sports governance and human rights due diligence (HRDD)’, encompassed its origins in sport and as a dynamic process between organisations and stakeholders to assess and mitigate risks. Magali Martowicz, Head of Human Rights from the IOC, presented the work behind the IOC’s Strategic Framework on Human Rights in the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and how the 15 recommendations set to change Olympic Sport were proposed, a most enriching perspective considering the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The last session of the day presented an applied case of HRDD in the German Olympic Confederation (DOSB), delivered by Daniela Heerdt and Laura Curtze from Ergon Associates. An impactful discussion about the enforcement of ‘non-binding human rights declarations’ in an autonomous international sports context highlighted the importance of advocacy and protection of human rights for the good governance of sport.

Midway through the programme, the third day addressed ‘Sport, Human Rights, and Gender’, beginning with an overview of Gender and Sports by Thays Prado from the CSHR. The second session addressed ‘Reflections on the rights of female professional football players’ by Alexandra Gomez-Bruinwood and Dr Alex Culvin from FIFPRO. It portrayed insights into how sports organisations and players' associations are crucial in advocating for human rights labour guarantees. An engaging discussion on women’s football and the complexity of negotiations between athletes, associations, and governing bodies reflected the need for articulated collaborative work and much-needed resilience to achieve positive continuous change. The last session addressed the ongoing litigation between Caster Semenya and World Athletics, led by Dr. Michele Krech from the University of Chicago. A thorough case revision of decisions made by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), the Swiss Federal Tribunal, and the European Court of Human Rights, provided a research-based perspective into how both sport and civil institutions are engaging human rights within the complex autonomous sports environment.

After a short break to reflect on new learnings and from reading resources provided by guest speakers, the fourth day of the programme began with the exciting topic of ‘Mega-sporting events (MSE) and Human Rights’. Lucy Amis from the CSHR presented frameworks for the MSE life cycle and an innovative ‘Human Rights Volunteers’ initiative during Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup. With an applied project planning, execution, and evaluation, critical insights from ‘games time risks’ showcased real-life methods of reporting human rights infringements. Next, Dr Andreas Graf and Irene Carretero Sala from FIFA and Julian Roessler from UEFA, in collaboration with Guido Battaglia from CSHR,  presented keynotes on the development of MSE bidding, frameworks for risk assessments, and relevant work examples of the creation of the Human Rights Declaration for UEFA EURO 2024.

Having had valuable lessons from frameworks, relevant cases, and practical organisational applications of human rights in sport, the fifth day continued to address ‘Remedy for sport-related human rights abuses’. Led by Daniela Heerdt, Ginous Alford from the World Players Association, and Antoine Duval, critical perspectives sparked relevant discussions on accessing remedy in sport and its adjudicatory bodies.

The sixth and last day of the programme concluded with ‘Burning Issues’ which portrayed the vast field of topics to be addressed regarding human rights in sport. From presentations on ‘Sport, Climate Crisis and Human Rights’ by Lucy Amis and Shubham Jain from CSHR and Christian Hughes from Clifford Chance, to ‘Athlete Participation in Times of Armed Conflicts’ by Dr. Nick McGeehan from FairSquare, and Decolonisation theories by CSHR’s Dr. Sabrina Razack, an ever-expanding impact of human rights in social, economic, environmental, and political dimensions motivated participants to engage in critical thinking and mind opening perspectives.

The closing discussions were marked by reflections, considerations, and new learnings obtained throughout these six immersive and enriching days. The participant group showcased how educational collaboration and work towards the progress of human rights in sports, reflects on the efforts made by researchers, leaders, and professionals within the field to make a positive change. Without educational opportunities in respectful and open spaces to build upon different perspectives, the sought protection of human rights would be blind-sided to many emerging issues internationally.

As a final remark, throughout this programme I learned that meaningful changes can be made, not only to face current pressing issues in the sports context but to set an environment where human rights and lives thrive in and outside of organised sports. Supporting and advocating for sport to address human rights through strategic and progressive management and policy could build upon a crucial movement for a better sporting environment.

A personal thank you note:

I thank CSHR and the Asser Institute for giving me the opportunity to hold a participant scholarship and be part of this enriching experience. Through learning, discussing, and connecting with leading researchers and professionals, I am motivated to advocate and work on innovating sport and human rights collaboratively. A special thank you to Daniela Heerdt for leading this programme, and ensuring everyone had an opportunity to participate and learn as much as possible. This educational experience reflects on efforts made in sport and its community, for which I now seek to apply in my professional work and research. 

Andrés F. Zárrate

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