Mary Robinson Opens the 2018 Sporting Chance Forum in Paris

Centre for Sport and Human Rights

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, 

Good morning and welcome. It is a great pleasure to see you all here in Paris. 

My thanks to UNSECO for hosting the third annual Sporting Chance Forum. Thank you also to UNESCO member state representatives who are joining us. UNESCO continues to provide valuable leadership in the UN system, including by promoting the value of physical education and sport, and by fostering greater respect for the human rights of all involved in sport. 

It is of course fitting that we meet during the week in which the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted here in Paris on 10 December 1948. We’ve made undeniable progress over seven decades in bringing the Declaration’s vision to life for more of humanity. But as we also know, the job is never complete. The struggle for human rights requires constant vigilance, and as we see in our world today, there is urgent need for effective fight back against forces that threaten to take us backwards. 

The situation we face is deeply worrying on multiple levels - from the rise of divisive nationalism in many countries, to shrinking space for civil society and those brave women and men who defend human rights in their communities. From ongoing discrimination and intolerance against migrants and others perceived as “outsiders”, to growing impacts of climate change that threaten the lives of millions today and many more in the years to come. 

These worrying trends can also be seen in and around the world of sport. In the past week alone, the issues of widespread sexual and physical abuse in Afghanistan’s women’s football team have come to light. So too has the case of Bahraini footballer and refugee in Australia, Hakeem al-Araibi, who has been detained in Thailand and faces possible extradition to Bahrain where he fears for his life. These are but a few examples of how the world of sport is not alone in the fight for universal human rights. 

Given the serious challenges we face, we all must commit to working to ensure that our current and future leaders at every level put human rights at the heart of the decisions they make. That includes leaders in the world of sport. 

There is undoubtedly a huge opportunity to advance the human rights agenda through sport. We need to use every tool we have available to convey the importance of human rights, especially to young people. 

Equally important is that sport walks the talk - we need to work together to support the sports sector to undertake its own needed reforms, build its human rights capacities and take full responsibility for its societal impacts. 

This is why I’m so encouraged by the collective action taking place around the new Centre for Sport and Human Rights to address common challenges with a shared vision. I’m honoured to serve as Chair the Centre - an independent human rights organisation within the world of sport - committed to working with all stakeholders to promote respect for human rights. 

The Centre officially launched in June of this year after nearly three years of open dialogue and joint action between multiple actors involved in and impacted by sport. I’m truly impressed by the ambitious aims we’ve set for ourselves and by the growing multi-stakeholder coalition that is supporting the Centre through its Advisory Council. This group of international and intergovernmental organisations, governments, sports governing bodies, athletes, unions, sponsors, broadcasters, and civil society organisations, representatives of which are here today, share the aim of ensuring that all actors fully embrace and operationalise their respective human rights duties and responsibilities. 

Allow me also to mention that as part of the work of the Centre’s interim Governance Committee, we have recently concluded a global search for the Centre’s first Chief Executive. I’m very pleased to officially announce that Mary Harvey has been appointed to that critical role. Mary has a distinguished record as a champion athlete, an Olympic Gold Medal winner, as well as a sports executive. Most recently, she led the development of the human rights components of the successful United 2026 bid to bring the FIFA World Cup to Canada, Mexico and the United States. Mary - we are thrilled that you are joining the Centre and that you are here with us for this event, but we won’t put you to work officially until January! 

The vision to create a Centre was one of the key outcomes from last year’s Sporting Chance Forum as stakeholders called for new and innovative approaches to tackle critical issues. The Centre has set itself up as independent, and has sought to provide a safe space for constructive and respectful dialogue. I would urge us to remember this in the days ahead. 

In the few short months since the Centre’s launch, we’ve already undertaken important events building on the dialogue we’ve developed with our partners. For example, in October we organised an expert roundtable in The Hague on the importance of ensuring access to effective remedies for human rights abuses linked to sport. Copies of the roundtable report are now available on the Centre website. I’m sure we’ll hear more about the outcomes from those of you here who participated. 

Turning to our agenda for the next two days, we have made a concerted effort to organise the discussions at this year’s Forum around the people who are affected by sport most directly, including athletes, children, workers, fans and communities. We’ll be hearing - in multi-stakeholder panels - directly from the voices of these affected groups over the next two days. Those individuals need to be heard and they are critical if we hope to learn lessons, ensure accountability and prevent harms in the future. 

As in past years, we’ll also be taking stock of progress made by different actors involved in sport, and drawing on the diverse range of expertise gathered here on what is working and what still needs to be done. We hope this approach will provide you all with new insights and help set the direction for our collective work in the year ahead. No one can make the changes needed on their own, and we call on all sports organisations to work in solidarity with others while keeping the voices of affected groups themselves at the centre of all considerations. 

Let me conclude by saying that what is unique about the Centre is that it convenes a broad and diverse coalition committed to working together on complex challenges. So let us use these days constructively to learn from each other, to support each other, and to help the Centre identify its priorities for the time ahead. 

We’re pleased to have with us this morning six individuals who represent a range of important institutional and expert perspectives to help set the stage for our discussions. 

I want to challenge each of our speakers to reflect in your brief opening remarks on what progress your own organisations are making and on what the key challenges are in 2019 and beyond: 

- What individual and collective actions should we prioritise to best protect people impacted by sport? 

- What further steps will help us harness the great potential of sport and align policies and practices with fundamental principles of human dignity and human rights? 

Those aren’t easy questions, but finding answers together is why we’re here. 

So once again, thank you all for your commitment to this important work. I look forward to our discussions. 

Thank you.

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