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No. 185, 27 August 2019
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‘Playing’ it right: A path ahead

By A.L.A. Azeez

The Olympic ideal and inclusive sports and their contribution to the promotion of human rights, peace and development were extensively deliberated on at the United Nations Human Rights Council Social Forum 2018. The outcome of the forum could contribute to strengthening inclusion and solidarity through a human rights- and Sustainable Development Goals-based approach to major sporting events, in particular the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

L'utilisation des sports et de l'idéal olympique pour promouvoir les droits de l'homme, la paix et le développement pour tous ont été largement débattus lors du Forum social 2018 du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies. Ses conclusions peuvent permettre, au travers d'une approche fondée sur le respect des droits de l'homme et la réalisation des objectifs de développement durable dans le cadre des grands événements sportifs, en particulier les Jeux olympiques de Paris de 2024, de renforcer l'inclusion et la solidarité.

El deporte olímpico ideal e inclusivo y su contribución a la promoción de los derechos humanos, la paz y el desarrollo fueron ampliamente deliberados en el Foro Social 2018 del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas. Los resultados del foro podrían contribuir al fortalecimiento de la inclusión y la solidaridad mediante un enfoque basado en los derechos humanos y los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible para los principales eventos deportivos, en particular los Juegos Olímpicos de París 2024.
As I reflect on the varied views and perspectives that emerged during the Human Rights Council’s Social Forum 2018 where the theme of the Olympic ideal and inclusive sports and their contribution to the promotion of human rights, peace and development were extensively deliberated on, I observe an immediate connect with the preparations that are currently underway for the hosting of the Olympics 2024 in France.

The International Forum on Olympic Legacy and Social Inclusion was a timely platform to bring that relationship into sharper focus and explore and analyze how best the outcome of the 2018 Social Forum could contribute to strengthening inclusion and solidarity through a human rights- and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-based approach to major sporting events.

Social inclusion through promotion of sports ideals

Preparations for and planning of a major sporting platform such as the Olympics 2024 no doubt provides an important opportunity to address the concept of sports from a holistic perspective, to look at ways of making sports, in particular the Olympic games, more inclusive, and to help build solidarity based on the Olympic ideal, further strengthened by inclusivity and collegiality. The path to inclusion - in the sense that sports bring societies, peoples and nations together - is a long and arduous one. Nevertheless, it is the path that we should tread, if our vision of an equal and non-discriminatory world does not just remain a dream, but a goal to be relentlessly pursued to its logical end. There are not many truly global sporting platforms as what the Olympics stand for, that can lend itself readily to realizing this noble objective.

Apart from the strong emphasis that we place on democracy, governance and human rights in our civil and political life as well as in economic and social spheres of human activity, it must be noted that developing countries also place a high premium on what they consider is significant for their progress: the realization of the right to development. All these combine to play a very crucial role in advancing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030, in cooperation with all stakeholders including cities and local authorities.

Addressing ways and means of increasing representation of all groups, including the vulnerable ones, in sports, accords well with the spirit of sports and the Olympic ideal, which inspire us to move forward in the face of stiff resistance. Diversity and inclusivity wanting, such a vision, sadly, would only be a mirage, with the full potential of humanity not being fully tapped.

Fairness and equity underpin the SDGs

Providing for equity and fairness to make inclusive participation meaningful is a key goal of modern sports and sports bodies. Such an approach and vision goes a long way in complementing the SDGs. Aside from education, health, employment, life on earth, life under water, most importantly with regard to organization of sports, in particular, in respect of bigger enterprises such as the Olympics, SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) are key. An inclusive society, as called for by SDG 16, underpinned by SDG 10, lies at the heart of global efforts towards achieving a world that is peaceful and prosperous.

Inclusion, solidarity and sustainable development

As planning and hosting arrangements for the 2024 Olympics are underway, it gives us hope that all fundamental criteria required for inclusive participation are under consideration. The Social Forum 2018 and the initiatives that ensued, which bring a clear focus on its outcome, are a significant stepping stone for practical and meaningful action towards enhancing respect for dignity and diversity and ensuring equality and non-discrimination as well as equity and fairness through the strengthening of solidarity among peoples at all levels.

The Olympics, that brings nations together through the unifying power of sports manifesting the shared spirit of humanity, can serve as an effective avenue of addressing the rising phenomenon of hate and extreme violence that today tear nations and communities asunder. In this regard, it is hoped that the 2024 Paris Olympics and other major sporting platforms that precede it would offer a valuable opportunity to underscore the imperative of norms and values that reject hate and violence, and to work towards the shared goal of humanity in all spheres of human activity. The potential of the media, including the social media, should be harnessed to bring out messages of unity in diversity.   
The UN Social Forum 2018

Following the adoption of resolution 35/28 by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the Social Forum to address the role of sports and the Olympic ideal in promoting human rights, the Forum, held in October 2018, attracted a wide range of players and actors representing different segments of the global community. There were, among participants, women athletes who had set unsurpassed records in their respective fields or had become trail blazers for others. There were representatives of minorities, indigenous communities and persons with disabilities, youth and women, with inspiring narratives, who had all collectively contributed with a sustained focus on gender, towards bringing greater awareness and understanding of both the challenges and opportunities they faced. Most recounted the varied constraints they had faced in their respective societies, and also how they sought to overcome them through collective action and solidarity, reflecting the indomitable spirit of humanity.

It is relevant to recapitulate aspects of the recommendations of the Social Forum 2018 for the positive bearing that they have for the Olympics:
  1. States, sports governing bodies and other stakeholders should respect, protect and consider all human rights in the context of sports. Their actions should be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, core human rights treaties, the Declaration on the Right to Development and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other instruments such as the Olympic Charter, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport. Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda, the Kazan Action Plan and follow-up mechanism, and the United Nations Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace can help inform this process.
  2. States should leverage sport to contribute to human rights protection and achieve the 2030 Agenda by working in collaboration with all interested stakeholders, including the sports community, civil society, international organizations and businesses.
  3. Sports and mega sporting events should serve as a platform to promote human rights and more peaceful, inclusive, just and equitable societies and international order. Athletes, as role models, should be encouraged to stand up for human rights. Physical education, physical activities and sport should be inclusive and based on human rights values. Upcoming sports and new technologies should embed human rights by design.
  4. Sports and mega sporting events should respect and consider the human rights of especially affected groups, populations and peoples. The planning, implementation and follow-up to sports policies and events should rely on transparent processes, include human rights impact assessment and due diligence dimensions, and provide effective grievance mechanisms for possible violations. The voices of those affected should be taken into account at all times. Decision-making bodies should ensure diversity, including by promoting gender equality.
  5. Players and other workers in the context of sports should enjoy rights to representation and to organize for their own rights. Migrants, including undocumented migrants, should have their freedom of association and labour rights respected and promoted in the context of sports.
  6. Sports policies and events should be based on multi-stakeholder collective action at all levels. Relevant United Nations organizations, in particular OHCHR and UNESCO, should continue to provide guidance on sports and human rights and engage actively with governments, the sports movement, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and other relevant stakeholders.
  7. The Centre for Sport and Human Rights should consider mapping initiatives and disseminate good practices on the promotion of reconciliation, peace and understanding through sports, especially in conflict and post-conflict scenarios.
  8. Sports-related reporting should adopt a human rights-based approach to data, and human rights indicators should include sport-related indicators. Human rights mechanisms should continue to consider sports and sporting events in their reports and recommendations.
Local authorities as Enablers of Rights
While these recommendations deserve due consideration and accommodation, three inter-related points which I think are salient in the context of the role of sports and organizing major sporting events and platforms also need to receive priority attention. 
First, it is important to have a sustained focus on the enabling of local authorities and the empowerment of local communities. They both are mutually reinforcing, but distinct. In the framework of rights and duties that bear upon all stakeholders in any activity, local authorities have the essential duty of serving as the 'Enabler' of Rights. This involves not just creating a congenial environment in which the society at large and its members can efficaciously enjoy their rights. In plural societies, this specifically requires going beyond the mere concept of inclusivity, getting all the different segments of the society to effectively and meaningfully interact with one another as well as with the local authorities. 
An inclusive and 'involved' approach linking local authorities and local communities in all situations, but especially in the context of mega sporting events, should seek to leave out none - be it senior citizens or elders, women and children, or vulnerable groups. This includes, in particular, migrants, who often live on the margins of society, clamoring to be stakeholders in the activities of local authorities and local communities.
Simultaneously, the empowerment of local communities should complement the enabling of local authorities to be able to effectively provide services and to conduct its activities in a manner that brings dividends to all.
Constructing an inclusive Future of Work and facing up to key challenges
Second, it is pertinent to note that humanity is currently on a continuum from the 'World of Work' to the 'Future of Work'. As it presents itself, the world of work is getting more and more dismal by the day. There are conventional and unconventional factors that contribute to this situation. Lack of economic growth, shrinking space of public service, changing patterns of investment and trade, unchecked ‘hire and fire’ policies, lack of support for small and medium enterprises are among factors that impact negatively on employment prospects.  
As we move slowly into the future of work, a host of challenges stare in our faces, ranging from Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and automation on the one hand, to digital commerce and block-chains on the other. The list, however, is not exhaustive.
As we discuss this crucial issue, it is pertinent to touch on the phenomenon of Urbanization as well. We are fully aware that urbanization is both a challenge and an opportunity, but what actually it is, for each city or metropolis, will eventually be determined by the effectiveness of urban governance, first and foremost. 
A host city of any mega sporting event or platform should find strength in constructing its own future of work going forward, in the spirit of inclusivity. Sports and sportspeople have a special role to play in this particular aspect of the world of work: creating opportunities for others and benefiting themselves from opportunities and dividends that accrue. 
A last, but more important point is the challenge of Climate Change. France, the host of Olympics 2024, is well known globally for its effective leadership and for the successful hosting of the Paris Climate Summit. It is logical that any initiative that seeks to make Olympics 2024 environment-friendly, with sustainable development policies and plans well in place, including those by local authorities, would be expected to derive naturally from the outcome of the Climate Summit, complemented further by the SDGs 2030.  
Finally, it behoves one to recall the all too imperative nature of the duty cast upon the local authorities, sportspeople, local communities, visitors and tourists, businesses and industries, public service and other stakeholders to not just reflect the spirit of climate-friendliness in all that is done, but to lead, in their respective realms, by example. Any mega sporting platform and the host venue cannot simply wish away this responsibility any longer.

Author:  A.L.A. Azeez is the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva and was the Chair-Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council Social Forum 2018.

This article is based on the author’s key note address delivered at the opening of the ‘International Forum on Olympic Legacy and Social Inclusion’, jointly organized by Seine-Saint-Denis, France and United Cities and Local Governments, an organization based in Barcelona, on 2-3 July 2019 in Paris.

* The views contained in this article are attributable to the author and do not represent the institutional views of the South Centre or its Member States.

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