10 human rights events in the world of sport in 2023

Human Constanta
10 December 2023

This is not the first year we have been talking about how important it is to have human rights in/for/through sport. 

December 10 is Human Rights Day and Football Day. A good occasion to bring together the idea of the inherent values of every person, and the universal language of the beautiful game. Football has the power to be a catalyst for positive change. December 10 is an opportunity to recall how the values of equality, justice and fair play are linked.

On this occasion, we have prepared a selection of events related to sport and human rights. 

The Vinícius Júnior case – combating racism in sport

One of the most high-profile cases related to racism in football in 2023. A player of FC Valencia was subjected to racist insults from the stands during one of the matches. He then raised the issue of racism in La Liga and received huge support from around the world at the level of sports federations and governments. Brazil passed a law aimed at combating racism during sporting events – the Vini Jr. Law.

Women’s World Cup

The 2023 Women’s World Cup was the most successful WWC in its history. Among other things, the tournament was also rich in terms of human rights. Total prize money almost quadrupled compared to 2019; media rights were sold separately for the Men’s and Women’s Championships for the first time. During the tournament itself, statements were made about (un)equal pay, in support of the LGBTQ+ community and protesters in Iran.

U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to ensure equal pay for men and women

The U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Teams have entered into a collective bargaining agreement – CBA – according to which USSF would receive 10% of the prize fund for the 2022 and 2023 World Cups, with the remaining 90% evenly distributed between the men’s and women’s teams. That is, the better each team performs, the more each team will receive. This is the first of its kind to ensure equal pay for men and women.

Sexual harassment in sport – the unwanted kiss of Luis Rubiales and Jennifer Hermoso

Special attention should be paid to the scandal that occurred during the celebration of Spain’s victory in the World Cup final – an unwanted kiss between football player Jennifer Hermoso and RFEF President Luis Rubiales. The incident sparked a wave of discussion and raised the issue of sexual harassment – not only in sport. FIFA decided to suspend Rubiales from football activities for 3 years (Rubiales left the post of RFEF president and UEFA vice-president before the disciplinary investigation was completed).

“Mass transfer” of players to the Arab League as an example of “sportswashing”

Saudi Arabia has adopted the “Vision 2030” program, a project to improve the country’s image, under which money is invested in boxing, Formula-1, golf and football, among others. In addition, the Public Investment Fund, which have spent $6.3 billion on sports, have controlling stakes in several football clubs. Dozens of football players have transferred to these clubs, including Ronaldo, Benzema, Mane and Neymar in 2023. At the same time, numerous human rights violations in Saudi Arabia have been documented – women’s rights, the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, the rights of migrants, and the use of the death penalty. This mass transfer of players to the Arab League is an example of “sportswashing” – the government’s use of sports as a way to improve its reputation.

Aliaksandr Danilevich’s sentence 

Belarusian lawyer Aliaksandr Danilevich was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Danilevich’s clients were Belarusian repressed athletes Aleksandra Herasimenia and Aliaksandr Apeikin. As a result, Danilevich was accused of “intentionally assisting athletes by providing legal advice on international sport law”. Such an accusation effectively criminalises all legal activities of lawyers in Belarus and deprives people of their right to defence, and lawyers themselves of their right to practise their profession.

Katherina Snytsina’s coming-out 

Belarusian basketball player Katherina Snytsina made a coming-out during one of the Internet shows. Snytsina later shared her thoughts on why there was no desire and opportunity to be open while in Belarus, as well as the many messages of appreciation she received. Among public people, particularly in the world of Belarusian sport, there have been no such precedents before. 

Brighton and the first stadium to be built specifically for women

Brighton have been granted planning permission for the first ever stadium built specifically for women. While there is no definite information yet on what exactly the stadium’s infrastructure will be, the fact that women have to share the football field with men, and usually priority is given to men’s team games is a common problem. Brighton could be a good example for other clubs not only in England, but around the world.

Conferences on Sport and Human Rights

In May the first and unique for our region conference “Athletes for Peace and Freedom” was held in Tallinn, where the possibility of athletes and modern sports to use their potential to promote the ideals of peace and freedom was discussed. Within the framework of the conference a declaration on the place of Belarusian and Russian sport in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine was adopted.

FARE organized the conference “Equality and Inclusion in Football” to take stock of the fight against discrimination and equality in football and to set an agenda for future action.

In December, the Sporting Chance 2023 forum (SCF23) was held in Geneva. The aim of the forum was to explore innovative strategies and forms of collective action to promote respect for human rights in the world of sport. As part of the UN’s Human Rights 75 program, SCF23 will make commitments that will help shape responsible sport for decades to come.

Attention to the topic of health and mental health in men’s and women’s football

In the past year, the topic of health has received special attention. After the 2022 World Cup, the issue of high loads, large number of matches and  lack of rest in men’s football became topical. Among women’s players, many players faced one of the most severe injuries – a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. It became evident that research into injuries among women in sports needed to be taken to the next level. The USWNT and Common Goal have teamed up ahead of the 2023 World Cup to bring attention to mental health issues in football and demonstrate that “vulnerability is a sign of strength.”

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