Giving Rights a Sporting Chance

The Commonwealth Games is coming to Glasgow next year and it's shaping up to be a truly momentous occasion.  I recently attended the conference Responsibility and Rights: Glasgow Commonwealth Games which explored the human rights challenges of Glasgow 2014, but also the tremendous opportunities to leave a meaningful legacy for future Mega Sporting Events (MSEs) around the globe.

Lucy Amis of International Human Rights and Business (IHRB) pointed out that MSEs like the Commonwealth Games are often seen to be financed at the expense of locals, and are associated with forced evictions, poor treatment of migrant workers, and criminalisation of the homeless. However, she stresses that many of the issues above are systematic in MSE host countries anyway.

But this does not take Glasgow’s Games off the hook.

On the contrary, “the Games have massive potential for human rights good with the values of the Games being solidarity and fair play” says Lucy. Human rights abuses are directly at odds with the sporting spirit: With “common values of sport and humanity, they should bring out the best in all of us” says Professor Alan Miller of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC).

The Chief Executive of Glasgow 2014 David Grevemberg agrees: “Sport is a human right… It is a critical part of every healthy community; it provides a context in which young people learn and grow.” “The Games is all about people” he says “and each of these people have human rights.” David went on to describe how human rights are embedded in the very language and narrative of the Games: “this is an opportunity to celebrate humanity, equality, destiny”

Nice sounding words, but human rights violations are not in the spirit, language or narrative of many sporting events I know of. Righteous language alone does not curb the rights abuses Lucy described.

Alan suggests the Games Organising Committee issue a human rights policy statement with criteria for success and link the Games to the wider project of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP), a document Amnesty Scotland has been helping to shape. Such a document, David assures us, has already been written and an Engagement and Legacy team established to keep human rights at the heart of the Games.

That said, good legislation is one thing, but translating it into improved human rights in everyday life is quite another matter. Indeed, this has been a key challenge in SNAP’s development. Policy means little when victims and witnesses are not empowered to pursue their rights.

Good work is already being done. A victim-centred approach is central to Jenny Marra’s proposed Human Trafficking Bill and ethical procurement is being insisted upon more and more. Though there is a long way to go, Police Scotland is also taking measures to help victims of forced labour and human trafficking understand that the police are there to help them.

The Commonwealth Games is an opportunity for Scotland to leave a human rights legacy that puts victims first. As David concluded, Glasgow’s Games are a tremendous opportunity to address the gaps in the attainment of human rights: “Not all countries respect human rights, but all countries play sport.” If sport can carry the message of human rights, let’s use that connection to do some good next year.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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