Sports and Human Rights - The Dawn of a New Relationship

Sport has the power to unite divided communities, transcend borders and help shape societies. Its impact stretches far beyond the field of play into the hearts and minds of citizens.

David at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in 2015

Sport has the power to unite divided communities, transcend borders and help shape societies. Its impact stretches far beyond the field of play into the hearts and minds of citizens.

I believe sport can respect, support and promote human rights as a tool for development and peace. For example, for children the 'right to play' is a fundamental human right as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is profound in its influence on future generations.

We have recently witnessed the growth of sporting events into mammoth global phenomenon, attracting hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.

Yet with this spectacular sporting scale comes significant social responsibility.

While sport can and should be a force for good, we are faced with the reality that the institutions that govern and bind the sporting community together are not perfect and not panaceas. Too often we hear stories where large sporting events have had a negative impact on people and their communities.

In 2013, a review undertaken by Brunel University, commissioned by the Oak Foundation, focused on how Mega Sporting Events (MSEs) impact children. It found significant evidence that children were adversely affected by MSEs, including instances of child labour and the impact of forced relocation of families due to construction. A separate report from the IHRB (the Institute for Human Rights and Business) also identified examples of numerous impacts on human rights through the different stages of MSEs.

To put it simply, it's time for this to change.

This week represents a massive moment in the history of sport and a milestone of which I am particularly proud. Today we are convening a meeting with our colleagues from across the Commonwealth Sports Movement, with other stakeholders in the world of sports and human rights. This is a gathering that I hope will contribute to new approaches in organising and running MSEs. We are aiming to set down a marker for our wider sports community that ensures that human rights, and in particular child rights considerations, are central to the awarding and delivering of these important events. To do this we want our organisers to gain a better understanding of and then to adopt the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Children's Rights and Business Principles.

Most notably, at this meeting we will be speaking with our existing and future Host Cities of upcoming Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Youth Games to ensure their events safeguard human rights and provide support to them in adopting human rights principles in all their decisions and activities. We believed this is an unprecedented opportunity to make real change happen through constructive and supportive dialogue. In many ways the progress we make this week will allow us to create a roadmap for future hosts and may be a model for other event organisers on how to navigate human rights risks and opportunities in the future. It is vital that the global sport industry creates launch pads for current and future hosts that build understanding of and awareness on the likely areas of risk that adversely impact people's rights when hosting a MSE. However, it is equally important to also identify the many great opportunities to respect, protect and promote human rights as the result of such large scale, locally relevant and globally resonant projects.

Over the past three years the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has been working with the likes of UNICEF and the IHRB to protect and promote human rights. One example was the creation of the Glasgow 2014 Approach to Human Rights. This document was heralded as the first time that a Mega Sporting Event (MSE) established a values based human rights policy. After the Games, Glasgow 2014 published the post-Games report, which helped to reinforce our commitment, transparency and accountability by outlining some of our achievements and making recommendations for the future. Furthermore Transformation 2022, the CGF's new strategic plan, sets out our commitment to human rights in our governance and management guiding principles as a means of explicitly outlining the type of culture we are aiming to create in our Federation.

We believe today offers a chance to have a genuine impact on the future of MSEs. This can be a huge game changer. We welcome the sporting community to join us along this journey. That's why I am calling on colleagues and peers across the sporting community to join one another as partners in making 2016 the year that we took another step in working closer with human rights and child rights advocates to mitigate the risk of harm that MSEs can cause but also to ensure that we protect and proudly promote human rights at the heart of our planning, delivery and legacies of our various activities and programmes.

MSEs can have such a positive impact on local communities - whether that's through influencing national legislation on human rights or simply by providing platforms for youth empowerment, training and employability. If sport is to carry the message of human rights and to communicate positive morals and values then our organisations and structures that support us need to be courageous and practice what we preach. Human rights and child rights considerations can and should be part of our DNA in hosting great sporting events. The sporting conversation needs to continue to not only encompass value generation, but also upholding values. The time is right to work on the industries' moral and ethical dimensions - for the safeguarding and benefit of athletes, citizens and their communities impacted by sport.

Before You Go