I. About the Teaching Note

In the past decade, a sport and human rights movement developed globally, as a result of a growing awareness among sport stakeholders such as athletes, sport organisations, sponsors, broadcasters, sport event organisers, fans and civil society organisations about the human rights risks connected to sport on the one hand, and the potential of sport to promote human rights on the other hand. The fundamental values and principles of sport speak to universal humanitarian values, such as harmony among nations, solidarity and fair play, the preservation of human dignity, and commitment to non-discrimination and have much in common with international human rights principles and standards, which provides opportunities to use sport as a vehicle for spreading human rights principles and standards. At the same time, sport carries numerous human rights risks. This applies to day-to-day sports, considering for example the recent rise in cases of physical and sexual abuse against athletes being reported across the globe, and sporting events, where cases of forced evictions, repression of freedom of speech and the right to protest, as well as exploitative labour practices have regularly been linked to their organisation and staging.

An important means of contributing to the sustainability of this movement is to strengthen the integration of human rights topics into sport-related education, and the integration of sport as an issue area into human rights education, at all levels and across all disciplines, so that young professionals and those currently or interested in working in the world of sport can continue and consolidate this trend. This is what motivated the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, a human rights organisation for the world of sport that works towards advancing a world of sport that fully respects and promotes human rights by generating awareness, building capacity and delivering impact, to write and share this teaching note. It is intended to serve as inspiration for those involved in teaching sport and human rights related subjects and aims to provide guidance on how to integrate the topic into their own existing coursework or potentially develop new areas of teaching. It provides a general introduction to the topic and highlights a number of sub-themes and core questions to study for each theme, including a selection of resources and case study examples. It can be used as a template for a lecture on the topic as such, or as a starting point for developing a seminar or case study for a particular sub-theme. Concrete ideas for teaching methods and approaches are included.

Target audience

The topic of sport and human rights can be integrated into many different courses and programs at higher professional or university education due to the multidisciplinarity that linking sport and human rights creates. Therefore, this teaching note is written for teachers from all sport- and human rights-related disciplines, including but not limited to sport management or business, sport policy and governance, sport sociology, sport law, physical education, sport and development, international, regional, or national human rights studies. The goal is to inspire teachers to bring the topic of sport and human rights closer to their students and to provide guidance for teachers on how to do that. While specific content and teaching methods need to be adapted to the context and background of the program and students, there is an opportunity and a value added by integrating sport and human rights into the curriculum for every sport and human rights related study program.

For business programs and students, it can be interesting to look at the different corporate actors involved in sport as a business and how they can promote but also adversely impact human rights. In particular, sport sponsors and broadcasters are crucial corporate actors, as well as any company involved in construction of sport facilities and in the sports supply chain.  For example, students can analyse the human rights risks related to the business of mega-sporting events (MSEs), as well as in the sponsorship, marketing and servicing of day-to-day sport.

For law programs and students, it can be of interest to study the interaction between sports law, or lex sportiva as it is often referred to, and human rights law. In particular, in recent years, there is increasing reference to internationally-recognised human rights standards in sport regulations and policies. Particular attention can be drawn to how sport can affect the rights of specific groups like children, women or the LGBTIQ community as well as wider groups such as athletes generally. Law programs can unpack the different human rights obligations and responsibilities of the different state and non-state actors involved and look at the application of documents like the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). In particular, the challenges related to remedying cases of sport-related human rights violations is interesting for law students.

Policy and governance programs and students can study how sport is regulated on the national and international level and the role of national and transnational governments in shaping the direction of sports policy and its implication on human rights. They can study the combination of social, economic and political ideologies that have an impact on sport and how they affect the rights of athletes and spectators.  Further relevant issues that could be addressed in a policy course are corruption in sport governing bodies, match-fixing or anti-doping policy frameworks.

For physical education programs and students, it can be interesting to look at equal participation of boys and girls, men and women and non-binary people in sport programs, and to what extent prejudices and elements of discrimination might pose a risk to equal participation. It is also possible to analyse whether teaching approaches take into account the specific perspectives, needs and experiences of women, girls and non-binary people, so that sports programmes are truly inclusive and equitable. Furthermore, safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults in physical education is of utmost importance and coaches and teachers need to be educated accordingly to understand and live up to their responsibilities.

Sport management programs and students can for example look at each actor involved in the sport ecosystem to understand their human rights responsibilities and the way the different actors separately and together can work towards a world of sport that fully respects human rights. It can be interesting to analyse how national and local sport organisations can contribute to this goal and how it can be reflected in marketing and communication strategies of these organisations.

Finally, for sport sociology programs and students, there is a wide range of topics that relate to human rights, such as athlete activism or athlete abuse, or the role media plays in the context of gender and sport. They can also study how sport is used as a medium for integrating gender, ethnic, religious, and disability interests and the different remedy mechanisms available in the sport system.