Reflections from the Sporting Chance Forum 2018

Reflections from the Sporting Chance Forum 2018

Zhan Chiam, Coordinator of our Gender Identity and Gender Expression programme, reflects on what sport has to do with human rights, and which human rights are relevant to sport

What does sport have to do with human rights?

Which human rights are relevant to sport?

The first question is more easily answered, as playing sport and the holding of huge sporting events affect millions of people around the world, either as amateur or professional athletes, fans, workers and contractors, journalists, human rights defenders, businesses owners, or local communities.

The second question, which is about how to frame human rights in this myriad of contexts, has more complicated answers. It is against this backdrop that the new Centre for Sport and Human Rights, established in June 2018, hosted the third Sporting Chance Forum at UNESCO, Paris, and has the unenviable task of trying to answer some of these questions.

That the Centre is initially housed within the Institute for Human Rights and Business is telling, as is the fact thatit primarily list as foundational international human rights standards the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, and the ILO Declaration on Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. 

Representing The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), one of only two LGBTI organisations speaking at the Forum, I looked forward to learning about the issues and also hearing from individual athletes, journalists, and human rights defenders about how human rights violations have impacted on them. I was moved by accounts of sexual abuse faced by athletes, inspired by Somali and Afghan women who persevered in their sport in the face of militant violence, patriarchy and poverty, and encouraged by the words of commitment from international sporting federations, corporations, and governments.

A constant refrain was the challenge of suitable remedies in the context of mega-sporting events, and for athletes who are often in close, symbiotic relationships with a number of actors and for whom a pathway to resolution is often unclear. With the Centre’s wide range of Advisory Council members, one can only hope that these complex issues will be sufficiently addressed, and that the commitments made at the Forum will translate into workable solutions. 

On the second day of the Forum, I was privileged to speak on a panel addressing the human rights of fans, alongside speakers from the International Paralympic Committee, Football Supporters Europe, and Mary Harvey, the Centre’s incoming CEO. LGBTI persons in this context face a number of obstacles, ranging from mere participation in sports as a young person, which has a knock-on effect on whether they enjoy sport as a spectator, to violence and hate speech at major sporting events targeted at visible LGBT persons. At the root of all this is the perception of sport as a normatively masculine endeavour – owned by men, and played and watched by men.

The fear and reticence many LGBTI persons have in playing, watching or excelling at sport becomes internalised from this perception, but is also played out in different experiences based on one’s expression of gender, experience of one’s body, and on things overheard in changing rooms and on the field. The physicality, aggression, and competitiveness that often accompanies sport further hinders it from being a safe space for difference. That is why it is all the more important to celebrate those athletes, whether they are “out” or not, who challenge bodily normativity, gender stereotypes, and heterosexuality. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest obtainable standard of physical and mental health outlined in 2016 what States and sporting bodies can do to create an inclusive culture for LGBTI persons to fully and safely participate in sport. This includes removing requirements for irrelevant clinical data or unnecessary medical procedures as preconditions for trans persons to fully participate in competitions, and to refrain from forcing, coercing, or otherwise pressuring women athletes into undergoing unnecessary, irreversible and harmful medical procedures to participate as women in competitions. The Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 recommend that sporting organisations create welcoming spaces for participation, sensitise sporting communities on anti-discrimination laws, and work with the general public to respect diversity based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics in sports.

Even with this snapshot of recommendations there is much to be done. 

ILGA continues to work alongside these human rights processes and is excited to support the Centre for Sport and Human Rights to concretise these rights so that sport really is a fair and dignified place for all.


The article originally appeared on the Institute for Human Rights and Business’ website. Republished with kind permission of the publisher.


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