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New Global Center for Sport and Human Rights

Center Could Help Fight Pervasive Rights Abuses in World of Sports

(Geneva) – The establishment on June 25, 2018 of a new Center for Sport and Human Rights has the potential to curb human rights abuses tied to sports and assist victims, Human Rights Watch said today. The Geneva-based center will also address abuses linked to mega-sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, under way now in Russia.

The center was established under the auspices of the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), and is chaired by Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

“Major sporting events have been marred by jailing and harassment of journalists, abuses of workers’ rights, environmental destruction, and abusive sweeps of poor neighborhoods,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Sports fans don’t want to sit in a stadium built by exploited, cheated, and abused workers – or worse, a facility that cost lives to construct.”

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights will seek to provide resources for learning and remediation, working to limit and ultimately eradicate the serious human rights violations that often accompany world sporting events. It will seek to increase the accountability of those involved, provide a space for victims to share their stories and seek justice, and help prevent future human rights abuses tied to sports.

Human Rights Watch has participated actively in the Mega-Sporting Events Platform, which led to the Center’s founding. The platform is an unprecedented coalition of intergovernmental organizations, governments, sports bodies, athletes, local organizing committees, sponsors, broadcasters, nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, employers, and national human rights institutions that have come together to show that sport has the power to create positive change.

The next World Cup will be hosted by Qatar in 2022. Since December 2010, when Qatar won its bid from FIFA to host the 2022 World Cup, the country has embarked on a massive building spree – restoring or building eight stadiums, hotels, transportation, and other infrastructure. Qatari authorities have said they are spending US$500 million per week on World Cup-related infrastructure projects. It is important for Qatar to respect workers’ rights and to provide remedies for any abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The situation is particularly urgent for workers building the stadiums and other facilities, given the country’s intense heat and humidity.

“How the Center engages with issues around the Qatar World Cup will be an important first test of the center’s ability to help end and remedy abuses,” Worden said.

The Center includes sports organizations like FIFA (The International Federation of Football Association), the International Olympic Committee, UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations), the Commonwealth Games Federation, and other sport institutions seeking to better manage the human rights risks associated with their competitions. It will also include non-governmental watchdogs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Transparency International, global trade unions, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented serious abuses associated with mega-events, from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to the 2018 Russia World Cup, where Building Workers International documented the deaths of 21 workers building stadiums. Human Rights Watch is a member of the Sport & Rights Alliance (SRA), a global coalition of nongovernmental groups and trade unions conducting research and advocating with global sports bodies to respect international standards for human rights, labor rights, and anti-corruption.

Human Rights Watch said the center is well placed to focus on:

  • Improving worker safety to help end worker deaths and injuries on stadium and other infrastructure construction sites;
  • Pressing for remedies for victims of human rights abuses tied to major global sporting events;
  • Tackling systemic discrimination against women and LGBT people in sport and beyond, and;
  • Ensuring the protection of athletes, rights monitors, journalists and rights defenders.

“Sport has the potential to inspire and celebrate human achievement. So there is no reason one worker should die or one journalist should be jailed to deliver a major sporting event,” Worden said. “We expect the center to move the ball forward to protect the rights of workers, journalists, athletes, environmentalists, and fans.”

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