The role of NHRIs in embedding human rights in sport

06 December 2017

The Sporting Chance Forum took place on November 30th and December 1st in Geneva, bringing together a vibrant range of stakeholders for a conference organised by the Institute of Human Rights and Business, the Swiss Confederation, and Mega Sporting Events.

Dr David Russell, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission – the current Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions – was invited to address the conference on the role that National Human Rights Institutions can play in embedding human rights in sport and, specifically, mega-sporting events. With the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Games set to take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2021, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been working closely with colleagues at the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council to determine how best to provide support for the Games.

Dr Russell said:

The role that sport can play in realising human rights is self-evident. A global platform with local relevance, that operates across the private, public and non-government sectors. It is an area of everyday life that brings people together in a positive affirmation of our common humanity. This vision of sport is a vision equally articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When I am asked to identify opportunities for human rights associated with hosting a large sports event, my eyes widen. The possibilities are, in truth, only limited by the resources made available – and those resources are typically significant.

Belfast in Northern Ireland has successfully bid to host the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games. With this success comes the prospect of showcasing a sports event for children and young people, designed and delivered through their active involvement. It is an opportunity to demonstrate the right to participate to its fullest extent as enshrined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This will of course have a particular meaning in society emerging from a history of violent conflict.

There is infinite potential and, to be frank, the challenge in Belfast is not to get the hosts to engage with human rights, but rather to temper expectations. The organisers need to focus on the question of what meaningful human rights outcomes can be delivered. This is where I believe the expertise of a National Human Rights Institution can prove invaluable…

To read the speech in full, click here.

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