​World Law Forum Conference on Human Rights in International Sport

​World Law Forum Conference on Human Rights in International Sport

​World Law Forum Conference on Human Rights in International Sport


While sport has historically brought people together, large-scale sporting events often run the risk of human rights violation. International sports organizations have come under scrutiny a number of times for their role in human rights violations committed by countries that are granted host status. Also of relevance are aspects of athletes’ human rights, especially those of child athletes, including issues of inclusion, sexual assault, and doping, among others.

With the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to take place in 2021, and the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar mired in controversy due to human rights concerns, there is no better time to address the human rights aspects of mega-sporting events. 


Human rights violations in mega-sporting events

Mega sporting events have often been in the spotlight for human rights abuse over the years. Because of the scale of these events, rights of workers, forced evictions, and suppression of the freedom of speech and expression are commonly alleged throughout the stages of preparation as well as during the events themselves. Among other instances, allegations have arisen during the organization of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016, the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018, and most recently, in Qatar, in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Additionally, these events court further controversy involving rights of child athletes, sexual abuse allegations, mistreatment of adult athletes, and discriminatory rules and policies. For instance, in 2019, Caster Semanya lost a case at the Swiss Supreme Court, that would allow her to compete as a woman without being forced to take testosterone-reducing medication. Semanya is not the first athlete to be subjected to intrusive testing, hormone regulation or invasive surgeries. A number of female athletes, mostly from Global South countries, have time and time again been forced to adhere to humiliating conditions in order to participate, as a result of their hyperandrogenism. Further, gender discrimination, religious and racial abuse and vilification continue to be persisting concerns across all major sporting events.

This agenda point will be divided into two panels – the first, on the human rights of child and adult athletes, and the second, on incidental violations involving workers and residents in host countries.

Implementation of obligations by sports governing bodies

Governing bodies like the International Olympic Committee and FIFA have clauses and policies requiring host countries to follow human rights guidelines. While other organizations have previously come out and supported the need for transparency and respect for human rights, mega sporting events continue to be marred by human rights violations. Furthermore, the organizing bodies themselves are complicit in the violation of rights through discriminatory policies or general apathy.

Despite claiming for years that human rights will be given greater prominence in how governing bodies conduct business, and suggesting that bidding processes would be rethought, there is little to evidence progress. Policies that disqualify participants for the expression of political, racial, or religious propaganda also take away from the progressive image these organizations create. In addition, the governing bodies themselves impose discriminatory policies against athletes and fail to protect them against abuse and discrimination.

The ideological core of these events being bringing people together through sport, the failure of existing efforts indicates that there is much to be done towards achieving non-discrimination and upholding human rights. Strengthening of ethics committees, greater and more diverse representation in management, and stringent enforcement of human rights policies are essential in overcoming this challenge. The panel on this agenda point will discuss existing efforts by governing bodies to further human rights, their successes, challenges, ongoing efforts, and what more can be done for better enforcement of human rights of athletes, as well as those involved in the staging of events. The question of sports governing bodies’ non-intervention in non-sport related human rights violations will also be addresses.

The responsibility of host countries in upholding rights

In order to prepare to host mega sporting events, countries often undertake largescale construction and development in order to meet global standards. More often than not, this involves the eviction of local residents to make room for construction as well as the use of labour, including migrant labour, to meet stringent timelines with poor social security, and poor wages and living conditions. Most recently, in Qatar, allegations have emerged of employers confiscating passports, and refusing to renew permits, using the circumstances to threaten workers with deportation or arrest in order to retain their services. Other violations include those such as Russia’s cracking down on freedom of speech and expression that arose against its draconian anti-LGBTQ laws in view of the upcoming Sochi Olympics.

Sport has always been treated as an avenue to display the human ability to overcome adversity and to bring people together. It follows then, that it must be used to combat discrimination, social exclusion, inequality, racism and other forms of violence. One of the basic tenets of human rights instruments is to prevent discrimination and to protect the rights of all. States must endeavour to uphold these qualities while hosting international sporting events.

The panel addressing this agenda point will discuss the obligations of countries, once they are granted host status, towards upholding the guidelines of the sporting organizations, as well as their international human rights obligations. The need to strengthen legislations and efforts to promote human rights, and the necessary consequences of failure to adhere to these requirements will also be addressed.  

The role of sponsors, broadcasters, and other stakeholders in addressing human rights violations

As per the 2015 Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee Report on the possibilities of using sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all and to strengthen universal respect for them, only 0.5 per cent of all commercial sponsorships is focused on female athletes. Additionally, media coverage for women’s sport is estimated at 5 per cent.

Besides these obvious disparities in the treatment of athletes by sponsors and broadcasters, who generate profits from such events, the need has been growing for these partners to adopt human rights policies, disclose efforts to implement human rights due diligence, and to remedy human rights violations within and incidental to their organization.

The panel on stakeholder roles in addressing human rights in sport will discuss the implementation strategies and contractual obligations of sponsors, broadcasters, and other stakeholders, as well as their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Human Rights Due Diligence and Applicable Standards

The 2011 UN Principles on Business and Human Rights lay down the need for corporate human rights due diligence. A number of international laws, treaties, and guidelines exist outlining the human rights responsibilities of States and other organizations.

This panel with discuss existing guidelines, standards, and laws that govern various aspects of human rights in sport, their effectiveness, gaps in the law, and ways to strengthen and create global policy.

Redressal mechanisms for victims

The UN Principles also address the need for corporate bodies to set up redressal mechanisms for human rights violations. This panel will delve into the various organizational, national and international redressal mechanisms that exist for athletes who have been victims of sexual assault, discrimination, racism, and other human rights violations, as well as the avenues that exist or are lacking for workers and individuals whose rights are violated incidental to the organization of mega sporting events.

The Way Forward

This panel will address the deficiencies in existing mechanisms of human rights implementation in sport and create a tangible body of recommendations for a safer, more inclusive future that places human rights at the heart of international sport.


  • Human rights and sports law and policy professionals
  • Government officials
  • Professionals from the sports sector
  • Policy makers, academics, consultants

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Jul 07 - 10 2021


All Day