Mega-Sporting Events

Mapping the Sport, Development, and Peace Agenda - Where are Human Rights?

06 April 2017

By Guido Battaglia, Researcher, IHRB

Can sport and physical activity be a useful tool in promoting tolerance and respect as well as a central element in strategies to achieve better health, education and social inclusion?

On 6 April each year, including today, the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace marks the work of all those dedicated to this cause, in particular in countries facing violent conflict.

In 2001, the United Nations established the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) on the premise that sport and play are vital in efforts to advance development and peace objectives. For two decades, a considerable number of UN resolutions and related efforts have reaffirmed the importance of sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace, most recently in the Declaration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

On 6 April each year, including today, the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace marks the work of all those dedicated to this cause, in particular in countries facing violent conflict.

The Connection Between Sport and Sustainable Development 

There are clearly many links between sport and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Commonwealth Secretariat identifies six SDGs where sport can best help drive positive change: health (SDG3), education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), economic growth (SDG8), sustainable communities (SDG11), and peace (SDG16), with a recognition that partnerships (SDG17) are crucial to achieving successful outcomes.

The UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee has made the connections between this agenda and human rights by noting that if used in the right way, sport can help build a generation and environment that is based on respect and cooperation, thereby strengthening respect for human rights and promoting them for all.

The positive impact of sport, however, is not automatic.

The positive impact of sport, however, is not automatic. For this reason, it is critical that all efforts in the broad sport for development and peace agenda (SDP) are aware of and aligned with international human rights principles and standards and ensure that they sit at the heart of programmes going forward. Making these connections starts with recognising the importance of community consultation and participation. As a leading SDP expert has noted [paywall]:

The most respected programmes adhere to the accepted ‘best practices’ of development—they are community-planned, needs- and asset-based initiatives, with close links to other interventions, especially in education and health. But many programmes have been imposed from abroad, driven by donors’ expectations, not community consultation…There is an urgent need for a more careful mapping of SDP than has previously been possible…If SDP is to grow and succeed, its advocates and practitioners need to distance themselves from the ‘messianic claims’ of the international documents and M&E by photo op and to develop rigorous, community-appropriate measures to evaluate what is actually being conducted on the ground.”

New Efforts to Map Current Practices
The overarching objective is to map current practices and provide guidance to stakeholders towards ensuring that a human rights focus lies at the heart of the SDP agenda.

As part of IHRB’s ongoing work in the area of sport and human rights, we are beginning a new research project that will engage with all the major stakeholders in the SDP arena. Over the coming months, we'll be speaking with a range of actors including governments, sports governing bodies, sports federations, athletes and their foundations, unions, sports brands and sponsors, and civil society groups, as well as funders of SDP programmes.  The overarching objective is to map current practices and provide guidance to stakeholders towards ensuring that a human rights focus lies at the heart of the SDP agenda.

This work dovetails with IHRB’s work as the secretariat to the Mega-Sporting Events Platform for Human Rights. The MSE Platform is an emerging multi-stakeholder coalition focused on ensuring that all actors involved in staging major sporting events fully embrace and operationalise their respective human rights duties and responsibilities throughout the MSE lifecycle.

MSEs, just like the SDP movement, are global exemplars of the positive power of sport. But experience also shows that the world of sport can be associated with adverse impacts for communities and other stakeholders.

The journey ahead is to ensure all involved, from the organisers of international competitions down to grassroots projects, embrace human rights principles and have the networks and tools they need to put respect for rights into practice.

Latest IHRB Publications

Realising Ethical Recruitment by Remediating Worker-Paid Recruitment Fees

At the end of November 2017, droves of company executives, human rights specialists, and diplomats from around the world will travel to Geneva to attend the UN Forum for Business and Human Rights. The theme of the conference this year is “Realizing...

20 November 2017

Commentary by Nikhil Eapen, India Director, Equidem Research

The Power of Collective Investor Action to Safeguard Human Rights

We are living in a time of tremendous upheaval, and also great promise.

From existential threats like the ravages of climate change that threaten public health and global water and food supplies, to an unprecedented migrant and refugee crisis...