By Gigi Alford

The Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA) was formed in 2015 by NGOs and trade unions committed to working together to embed human rights and anti-corruption across world sport.

By working collectively, these groups are stronger and better positioned to pressure global sport bodies to ensure their decision-making and operations respect international standards for human rights, labour rights, and anti-corruption in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Along with Football Supporters Europe (FSE), the SRA includes Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, ILGA World (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), the International Trade Union Confederation, Transparency International Germany and the World Players Association. The coalition amplifies the ability of each partner to promote the rights of people most affected by—yet too often underrepresented within—sport, including children, women, activists, minorities, fans, athletes, and workers. The SRA has played a pivotal role in landmark decisions by sport bodies to embed their responsibilities to respect internationally recognised human rights, by adopting new policies, introducing bidding criteria for mega-events, and including specific clauses for the host city contracts.

The coalition also serves as a watchdog group to give early warnings of human rights harms that could arise or are already happening, such as forced evictions, attacks on free speech, human trafficking, abuse of migrant workers, crackdown on peaceful protests, overreach by security and discrimination. In partnership with the victims and witnesses of these abuses, the SRA works with sport governing bodies, local organising committees, governmental actors, corporate sponsors and others to either prevent harms or remedy those that have already occurred.

Working with the LGBTIQ Community Worldwide

The SRA initiative was a response to the waves of crises over the past decade that have fundamentally challenged the social and commercial legitimacy and value of sport, including the impact on the LGBTIQ community. The coalition helped drive a global campaign to add protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation to the Olympic Charter, a clear rebuke of Russia enacting its draconian ‘anti-gay’ laws even as it prepared to host the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and then the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup.

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, FSE and other SRA partners have successfully campaigned for the rights of the traveling LGBTIQ fans, leading to the commitment made by FIFA and the Local Organising Committee that the rainbow flag would be accepted inside the stadia for the very first time. More recently, FSE lobbied ahead of the UEFA Europa League 2019 in Baku for the removal of the mandatory HIV declaration from Azerbaijan’s visa application process, which was part of a broader discriminatory policy targeting gay men. Ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020, which will take place in Summer 2021 in countries with a challenging environment and legal framework for the LGBTIQ community, the SRA remains committed to demanding a more systemic change from the host countries, in order to achieve proper legacy for the local LGBTIQ communities.

Working to Keep LGBTIQ Fans Safe at International Tournaments

The safety of LGBTIQ fans remains a concern for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup to be hosted in Qatar, which punishes gay people with one to three years in prison. These anti-gay laws clash with FIFA’s statutes confirming that discrimination of any kind within football “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.” During the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar, organisers for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup Supreme Committee gave assurances to gay supporters that fans of any gender, sexual orientation, religion and race will be welcome in Qatar. However, they gave no sign that the country would repeal its laws criminalising homosexuality, allow rainbow flags outside of stadia or create space for openly affectionate behaviour between romantic partners of any persuasion. 

According to the UNGPs, the universal standard for business and human rights adopted by the UN Human Rights Council that provides the foundation for the work of the SRA, host countries and sport bodies that partner to stage major sporting championships share a government duty to protect and corporate responsibility to respect human rights, including labour rights, press freedom, and anti-corruption measures. These obligations span the full lifecycle of the event—from bidding, to planning, to implementing, to legacy. To this end, FIFA, its regional confederations, and the IOC as the ‘supreme authority’ of the Olympic Movement that encompasses global football, are obligated to embed due diligence procedures to ensure that Football Championships do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses in the hosting or staging of the event. Furthermore, they should provide for independent monitoring and remedy mechanisms to ensure that promises made in the bidding stage and fixed in the host city agreements are followed and enforced. These standards cannot be based on goodwill, and they must be binding for all stakeholders.

A Coalition to Tackle Discrimination

Five years after launching the SRA, the fans continue to be a committed partner alongside the world’s most widely recognised NGOs and legitimate representatives of other groups at the heart of sport, not least the players and the workers building the stadia. Without this broad coalition working in concert towards a clear strategy based on international standards, we would be much further away from our goal of ensuring the interests and wellbeing of fans of all backgrounds are safeguarded without prejudice or discrimination.

Gigi Alford is Director of Sport and Human Rights for the World Players Association, the global voice of more than 85,000 organised players across professional sport. She also coordinates the Sport & Rights Alliance, a coalition of NGOs and trade unions representing and advocating for the rights of those most affected by the human rights risks associated with the delivery of sport.

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