Reflecting on the first five years of CSHR

Centre for Sport and Human Rights

First proposed in 2015, a multi-stakeholder initiative came together to develop an evidence base and mandate for a new organisation dedicated to the specific human rights dimensions of sport. As an outcome of that process, CSHR launched in 2018 with a mission to advance a world of sport that fully respects and promotes human rights.

A venture building on decades of work by many parties, CSHR was established with a specific role to share knowledge, build capacity, and strengthen the accountability of all actors in sport through collective action and realisation of the Sporting Chance Principles. The 2023 Sporting Chance Forum therefore provided a moment to reflect on the first five years of CSHR.

Following three years of incubation by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), CSHR became independent, grew its team, and gained increased visibility in 2021, adopting a four-year strategic plan, “Convergence 2025” premised on a theory of change involving generating awareness, building capacity, and creating lasting value.

Generating awareness, the first pillar of CSHR’s theory of change, aligns with a strategic priority to nurture innovation and knowledge, encompassing communications, campaigns, education and training - all targeted at mainstreaming respect for human rights within sport. Broader engagement with public audiences has sought to cement the connection between sport and human rights, reinforce the relevance of human rights to sport, and highlight actionable steps that all stakeholders can take. As a result of these efforts, it is increasingly understood that sport and human rights are inherently connected and what this means for different stakeholders.

Building capacity, the second pillar of CSHR’s theory of change, has included work to strengthen operational systems and practices in sport to align them with human rights responsibilities. CSHR has co-created, developed and published a range of best practice tools, guides and materials, including on fans’ rights, mega-event due diligence for sports bodies, event security, responsible sponsorship, guidance for broadcasters, mapping human rights risks across the mega-event lifecycle, child rights, games-time risks and in embedding human rights in sports body governance. In doing so, CSHR seeks to speak to the needs of all affected groups at the heart of the ecosystem, incorporate an intersectional approach, apply a gender lens, and consult widely in developing its outputs. In pioneering high-quality new standards, guidance and know-how, CSHR has positioned itself as the go-to resource on human rights in sport, with strong regional experience in Europe, the Middle East and North America. Now, with an increased focus on implementation, CSHR has instigated innovative new projects, bringing National Human Rights Institutions together with sports bodies, piloting the concept of Human Rights Volunteers for major event organisers, including a significant deployment at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and working hand in hand with host cities to engage stakeholders and develop human rights strategies.

Recognising the challenge of access to effective remedies within sport, CSHR has developed its Roadmap to Remedy project, developing and publishing guidance on working with Affected Persons and on conducting investigations into complaints of abuse in sports. In 2022, CSHR launched its Advisory Services function to address gaps between commitments and practice, launching new partnerships with national and regional federations to support the development of human rights policies and processes. As a result of these efforts, institutions in sport are increasingly prepared to acknowledge, engage, and adapt to their human rights responsibilities with an appreciation of actionable steps that can be taken. In the last twelve months, CSHR has worked as a technical expert with FIFA, World Athletics, European Athletics, the Commonwealth Games Federation, the German National Olympic Committee, Special Olympics, the Francophone Games, and the Swedish Sports Confederation.

As a trusted partner and critical friend to sports organisations, CSHR contributes to the preparedness, resilience and capability of sporting institutions to respect human rights. Creating lasting value, the final part of CSHR’s theory of change, reflects origins as a multi-stakeholder network and ongoing dedication to fostering inclusive engagement, cultivating collective action and forging transformational alliances. CSHR’s roots are maintained by convening diverse groups of stakeholders through an influential and growing Advisory Council, with broader engagement structured via an Engaged Organisations model. CSHR’s people-centred ecosystem approach has taken root within the sector, contributing to ongoing policy dialogues at regional and international stages.

Meanwhile, a major focus on the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the US has focussed on ensuring the promise of a positive legacy for host cities - with particular attention to the child rights legacy of mega-sporting events: promoting safety, child voice and agency in the delivery and legacy of events. Notably, CSHR continues to host the largest global gathering of the sport and human rights community - the Sporting Chance Forum and to convene a series of private strategic dialogues with a focus on specific actors and regions - such as the Host Governments Forum and the Doha Dialogue, in both cases demonstrating unique convening power. This intensive work to bring the sport ecosystem together has resulted in unprecedented conversations, collaborations and partnerships and contributed to developing the broader sport and human rights movement.

With respect to governance, stewarded by Mary Robinson as Founding Chair and Patron, CSHR has developed a unique governance structure with the UN Human Rights Office and the International Labour Organization - key UN agencies - formally part of its constitution alongside peak global bodies representing workers, employers, and athletes. CSHR is now a specialist agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, working to bring all actors in the sport ecosystem together to understand and act upon their roles and responsibilities - requiring a strong and iterative focus on building trust, conducting outreach, and deepening engagement. Governed by an independent board of directors, CSHR is a regulated non-profit dedicated to fulfilling its mission for the benefit of people and communities affected or impacted by sport, namely athletes, workers, communities, fans, volunteers, coaches, officials, administrators, and journalists, with a particular focus on the rights of at-risk, vulnerable and historically disadvantaged groups.

The 2023 Sporting Chance Forum came at the midway point of Convergence 2025 and offered a chance to reflect on the delivery of CSHR’s strategy. As part of a strategy review process in 2024, CSHR will assess how the activities flowing from its strategic plan have moved the needle against defined collective outcomes. An independent review of CSHR’s impact in 2022 determined that the organisation makes its strongest impact when conducting activities that leverage its network, utilise its expertise, and benefit from its convening power.

As the organisation matures beyond its start-up phase and increasingly demonstrates the impact of its work, CSHR has the opportunity to consolidate global efforts and drive implementation. This will include further efforts to mainstream the human rights agenda and cultivate transformative leadership within the sector. Long-term systemic and cultural change to truly embed respect for human rights can make sport safer, fairer and more inclusive, unlocking the immense potential to leverage sport’s role as a social good. This is generational work requiring many partners, and CSHR will continue to offer its good offices as a coordinator, catalyst, and convenor.

Related Articles