A Sporting Chance For Human Rights

27 September 2019

From 2-5 September, delegates from 15 NHRIs and Ombudsman offices gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, to attend a workshop on sport and human rights. Following the adoption of the London Declaration on Sport and Human Rights at the CFNHRI Biennial in 2018, the purpose of this workshop was to delve deeper into the potential for NHRIs to embed human rights in sport through commitments made in the Declaration. The workshop was coordinated by the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, together with the National Commission for Human Rights, Rwanda.

CFNHRI delegates with CEO of Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Mary Harvey, and President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Louise Martin.

The workshop took place alongside the annual meeting of Commonwealth Sport (formerly the Commonwealth Games Federation), in order to provide the opportunity for dialogue between NHRIs and their respective Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs). With the assistance of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, the CFNHRI delivered an engaging programme for NHRI delegates which enabled them to exchange knowledge and experience with those who had not yet explored the area of sport and human rights.

During a session on the ‘Role of NHRIs in Sport and Human Rights’, Madeleine Nirere, Chairperson of the National Commission for Human Rights Rwanda; Padma Raman, Chief Executive of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC); and Dr David Russell, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, presented the work that their NHRIs have done in the area.

Using sport as a platform to promote human rights and raise awareness of specific issues has been instrumental for the work of the Rwanda Human Rights Commission, particularly as a means to engage young people on issues such as drug abuse, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, homelessness, and enhancement of national unity and reconciliation.

In 2017 for International Human Rights Day, the Commission held an event at Ubworoherane Stadium in Musanze District, Northern Province under the global theme ‘Stand up for someone’s rights today’. The Human Rights awareness toward cycling competition ‘Acrobatic’ was organized, and in 2018, the National Commission for Human Rights of Rwanda delivered messaging through a football match in line with the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At this year’s sport and human rights event in Kigali Chairperson Nirere said: “persons who organize and participate in sports should be even more accountable to human rights standards. They have the potential to be the role models for young people and help create an ethical society built on human rights principles”.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has been working in partnership with a number of local and national sporting associations over the years on an anti-racism campaign, Racism. It Stops With Me. The campaign was recently refreshed to coincide Cover of the guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sportwith the world premiere of The Final Quarter, a documentary about Australian Football League star Adam Goodes and the racism he experienced on and off the pitch. In conjunction with this refresh, the AHRC launched, Let’s talk race: A guide on how to conduct conversations about racism. On the guide, Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said: “We hope this guide will help people navigate their way through meaningful and productive discussions, to not only identify racism but to build strategies to change behaviours.”

The AHRC has also recently published two sets of guidelines which provide information about the operation of Australia’s federal Sex Discrimination Act in the context of sport. In March 2019, in partnership with Golf Australia, the AHRC published guidelines on gender equality in golf. In June 2019 in partnership with Sport Australia and the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPs), the AHRC published guidelines on the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport. In addition to providing information on the operation of the law, both sets of guidelines also provide practical guidance on how to make sports more inclusive.

One of the highlights of the workshops in Kigali, was the presence of six young ambassadors from Northern Ireland, who had travelled to the city with the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council. The young people, who are all active in sport in their own communities in Northern Ireland, were able to demonstrate what a successful partnership between NHRIs and their CGAs can look like.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched the Northern Ireland Sport and Human Rights Forum and a Declaration on Sport and Human Rights earlier this year, with United Nations Deputy High Commissioner Kate Gilmour attending the launch event. The Forum brings together representatives from across the sporting spectrum and aims to provide a multi-stakeholder platform for exchanging knowledge and good practice on sport and human rights issues.

The Commission also led on the development of the London Declaration of Sport and Human Rights during its term as Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of NHRIs. Speaking at the event in Kigali, Chief Executive of NIHRC David Russell highlighted that NHRIs can “assist sports bodies to act and improve the good work they are often already doing, to help them perform even better”, and that “sports bodies need to think of themselves as human rights defenders”.

The event was also an opportunity for the NIHRC to screen their latest video on Sport and Human Rights for delegates.

Speakers Ollie Dudfield, Head of Sport for Development and Peace at the Commonwealth Secretariat; Mary Harvey, Chief Executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights; and David Grevemberg, Chief Executive of Commonwealth Sport, also shared their perspectives on sport and human rights and provided delegates with updates on the work of their organisations.

CFNHRI members joined the main Commonwealth Sport general assembly on day two for a workshop coordinated by the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, which featured a session on ‘NHRIs as a critical partner’, and highlighted to Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs) how NHRIs can be a strong enabler for good governance in sport. During a working lunch, NHRIs met with their respective CGAs and were able to discuss future opportunities for partnership. This segment was particularly fruitful, with many NHRIs making plans to meet with their CGAs when they returned home from Rwanda.

Many thanks to all of the delegates who participated in the workshop. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as the CFNHRI focal point on this topic, looks forward to continuing this work on sport and human rights and building future partnerships between NHRIs and CGAs.

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