Lucy Amis, Human Rights and Sport Specialist, UNICEF UK
The third annual Sporting Chance Forum convened in December 2018, as the world was commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was also the cusp of the 30th anniversary year of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was fitting then that the 2018 Forum focused on themes of young athletes surviving and combatting sexual exploitation, and the impact of youth participation emerged as a key touchstone.
Few present will forget the raw but courageous personal stories of three adult survivors of sex abuse – as recounted by ex-footballer Colin Harris, former swimmer Karen Leach, and rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard. All described the long-lasting impacts of the abuse perpetrated against them by their coaches and sport medics, as they were young aspiring athletes. Each of these survivors has turned campaigner, and their offer to work with leaders in sport to deter and combat future such crimes cannot fall on deaf ears. Neither too should go ignored the call to action and requests for support from Shabnam Mobarez, Captain of the Afghan women’s national football team and her team-mate Khalida Popal, who reported on the atrocities still being endured by members of their team, some as young as thirteen, by sexual predators and figures of authority in Afghan footballing circles.
Voices of, or on behalf of, other affected groups including fans, athletes, and workers offered compelling reminders of the work the Centre for Sport and Human rights still needs to drive, for example, in relation to LGBTI rights, player recruitment, migrant worker treatment, and journalist and human rights defender protection.
At the same time, we should not lose sight of tangible progress and emerging good practice evidenced by the Commonwealth Games Federation and FIFA, Japanese stakeholders ahead of Tokyo 2020, the Organising and Bid Committees for Paris ’24 and United ’26, within government national sports policy and in the fight against anti-corruption.
Nor should we forget the valuable contribution of business leaders, notably those sport sponsors and broadcasters that have broken new ground by joining and backing collective action efforts since the idea for the new Centre was first proposed back in 2015. Their contribution received less profile at the 2018 Sporting Chance Forum than it has in the past, but the crucial role of existing and new corporate partners still needs to be nurtured and harnessed.
As a counterpoint to some of the more challenging human rights issues discussed, it was a potent symbol of hope that the Forum for the first time featured insightful end-of-day reflections from two young sport network representatives, Viet Nyugen and Niels de Freguier. Their mature perspectives highlighted several of the opportunities and persistent roadblocks confronting the Centre and its supporters. Foremost among these is the continuing need for greater global South participation, and the urgency of driving sport and human rights efforts into grassroots sport. Consolidating alliances being forged with the agendas around sport for development and peace, climate change, and sports integrity movements will also be key. A huge opportunity also exists in increasing the youth, athlete, and affected group representation within Centre, and wider sport, decision-making.
As we enter 2019 there are at last signs of a culture change on sport and human rights. UNICEF offers its appreciation to Mary Robinson and the IHRB team for their leadership, and pledges our continued support to the Centre for Sport and Human Rights in the months and years ahead.