Human rights are also player rights
Freedom of association is essential to the enjoyment of fundamental rights in sport
Individual liberties like free speech depend on the collective – a reality again powerfully demonstrated by NFL and NBA players and their unions this month.
World sport has a long history of condemning athletes who take a stand for human and player rights. An international athletic career is the stuff of dreams, and an athlete’s time in the spotlight is short. The threat to rob people of their dreams is a powerful weapon to quell protest and compel obedience.
Players in North America are exercising their right to peaceful protest backed by the US Constitution, their labour unions and their personal courage and principle. In contrast, international athletes commonly have no such rights or protection.
Volumes of legal documents in world sport impose onerous obligations on athletes. None guarantee their fundamental human rights.
International sporting bodies can – and do – impose their will on the very athletes who build sports’ multi-billion dollar coffers through world class performances and years of sacrifice.
This injustice continues despite the courage of champions such as Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, Curt Flood, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Henry Olonga, Andy Flowers, Cathy Freeman, Jean Marc Bosman, Feyisa Lilesa, Colin Kaepernick, and many others.
Individual protests translate into collective and lasting protection when a union is in place to maintain the fight to enshrine the rights being so bravely fought for.
The World Players Association is determined to embed the fundamental human rights of everyone who makes sport possible including the athletes.
In 2014, our affiliate, the Australian Athletes’ Alliance, became the first player and athlete association to publish a charter of athletes’ rights founded in international human rights law.
In July, we released the World Player Rights Policy. Its adoption is the first step that world sport must take to legally uphold player rights, act proactively to respect them and ensure access to a remedy for those whose rights are violated. The World Player Rights Benchmark is being created to monitor the Policy’s implementation.
Over 100 player associations affiliated to World Players are now finalising and adopting the proposed Universal Declaration of Player Rights. The Declaration, which sets out the internationally recognised rights of players, has been developed by player and athlete associations, union members and human rights experts over the last two years.
Others involved in the governance and management of sport have called for the formal protection of athletes’ rights. The world’s sports ministers recently demanded action to safeguard athlete rights to protect the integrity of sport. WADA and the IOC, through their athlete committees, have also identified the need for an international charter of athletes’ rights.
The human rights commitments of the World Players Association extend to construction and supply chain workers, journalists, local communities, fans, children, and volunteers. Through our partnership with the Sport and Rights Alliance, the IOC, FIFA, UEFA and the Commonwealth Games Federation have recently adopted important initial measures to bring their activities in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
However, as history and the ongoing events in the US demonstrate, a written document, while essential, is not enough.
Of all internationally recognised human rights, possibly the most important is freedom of association. It is this right which enables players – without management interference – to organise and collectively bargain; to have an equal say in the negotiation of key issues; and to selflessly ensure that progress is entrenched so that it can be passed down to the next generation of athletes.
World Players Association
UNI Global Union