Recently public criticism over the violation of human rights when staging big sport events has increased. Against this backdrop activists joined members of the European Parliament, and sport bodies in Brussels to discuss human rights issues ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. At the European Parliament Event on 12 July NGO activists of the Queering Football network also launched a handbook on human rights and mega-sport events.
In his opening statement MEP Hannu Takkulu from the Sport Intergroup highlighted the integration aspect of big competitions; to “promote peace and understanding of people irrespective of their origin, culture, religion or sexual orientation.” However, in countries which host major international sport events “human rights violations increase, people are forcibly evicted from their houses and construction workers building stadiums are exploited, also minorities such as LGBTIQs are discriminated.” Takkulu said that the EU has to do everything to protect the rights of athletes, workers, journalists and minorities.
Talking about the current situation in Russia, Elvina Yuvakaeva from the Russian LGBT Sport Federation described the current ideology of the government. They “use scare tactics, for example exploiting the LGBT rights topics to demonstrate the moral decay of the Western world.” For Yuvakaeva the World Cup is also an opportunity to change the situation for the better: “We can and must claim from FIFA and the Russian Football Union their full support in implementing inclusive policies in football for LGBT people. Such programmes would be a significant step forward in fighting homophobia.”
MEP Ulrike Lunacek, co-chair of the LGBTIQ Intergroup, said sport events should be something to unite people and “one should go there joyful and not with fear. Imagine you’re a gay, lesbian or bisexual sports person and you go to a country where you shouldn’t be out, this doesn’t help your sport activities.” Lunacek, who is also a Vice-president of the European Parliament, called on IOC and the European Olympic Committee as well FIFA “to really move ahead and make sure that Human Rights standards and social standards are part of the allocation process, because that’s where it all starts, otherwise we wouldn’t have the next football World Cups in Russia and Qatar.”
FIFA, the much criticised sport governing body accepted the invitation and was represented by Fani Misailidi, their Head of Public Affairs. Misailidi acknowledged that her organisation had to go through a learning curve in the process of putting in place a more systematic human rights approach in the context of its competitions: “A few years ago we wouldn’t be discussing in those terms. The sports bodies needed also some time to review their responsibility in promoting the respect of human rights in their sports competitions.” Also with the help of Harvard Professor John Ruggie and as part of its Human Rights Policy FIFA has identified its most salient risks. For FIFA events there “have to be standards and FIFA is implementing its commitment in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. That’s exactly what we are doing: integrating human rights in the bidding and the hosting documents.”
Concluding about their last event in Russia which also saw the implementation of FIFA’s Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System – a program in collaboration with FARE –, she said “we had overall a discrimination free environment at FIFA Confederations Cup, but of course we are aware that next year many more fans will travel for the World Cup.”
Nikola Staritz from the Austrian fairplay Initiative, who coordinates Queering Football project outlined how issues of LGBT and workers’ rights are being violated and what measures should be taken to tackle the situation in Russia.
She also marked the announcement of the handbook on “Human Rights Risks in the context of mega-sport events and how to prevent them”. The handbook analyses the role played by different stakeholders and introduces relevant documents. It provides a strong policy rationale and arguments for hosting better sport events in future and aims to spark a debate with relevant actors in the field.
“We are convinced that every stakeholder can do a lot and take responsibilities. We only can change something if everybody is doing something”, Staritz said as her concluding remarks.
The event was hosted by the Sport Intergroup of the European Parliament and took place as part of the Erasmus+ sport project “Queering Football – Tackling Homophobia and Promoting Anti-Discrimination around Major Sport Events”, co-funded by the European Commission, and “Our Game for Human Rights”, co-funded by the Austrian Development Agency and the Austrian Ministry of Sport.