Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games.

About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...

How Data Protection Crystallises Key Legal Challenges in Anti-Doping - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's Note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences. Her interests focus on interdisciplinary approaches as a way of designing effective solutions in the field of anti-doping and other science-based domains. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” was published through T.M.C Asser Press / Springer in late 2015. She participates as a co-author on a project hosted by the University of Neuchâtel to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. In her practice, she regularly advises international federations and other sports organisations on doping and other regulatory matters, in particular on aspects of scientific evidence, privacy or research regulation. She also has experience assisting clients in arbitration proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport or other sport tribunals.

Since the spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) has loomed over the sports sector,[1] a new wind seems to be blowing on anti-doping, with a palpable growing interest for stakes involved in data processing. Nothing that would quite qualify as a wind of change yet, but a gentle breeze of awareness at the very least.

Though the GDPR does mention the fight against doping in sport as a potential matter of public health in its recitals,[2] EU authorities have not gone so far as to create a standalone ground on which anti-doping organisations could rely to legitimise their data processing. Whether or not anti-doping organisations have a basis to process personal data – and specifically sensitive data – as part of their anti-doping activities, thus remains dependent on the peculiarities of each national law. Even anti-doping organisations that are incorporated outside the EU are affected to the extent they process data about athletes in the EU.[3] This includes international sports federations, many of which are organised as private associations under Swiss law. Moreover, the Swiss Data Protection Act (‘DPA’) is currently under review, and the revised legal framework should largely mirror the GDPR, subject to a few Swiss peculiarities. All anti-doping organisations undertake at a minimum to abide by the WADA International Standard for Privacy and the Protection of Personal Information (‘ISPPPI’), which has been adapted with effect to 1 June 2018 and enshrines requirements similar to those of the GDPR. However, the ISPPPI stops short of actually referring to the GDPR and leaves discretion for anti-doping organisations to adapt to other legislative environments.

The purpose of this blog is not to offer a detailed analysis of the requirements that anti-doping organisations must abide by under data protection laws, but to highlight how issues around data processing have come to crystallise key challenges that anti-doping organisations face globally. Some of these challenges have been on the table since the adoption of the first edition of the World Anti-Doping Code (‘WADC’) but are now exposed in the unforgiving light of data protection requirements. More...

What happens in Switzerland stays in Switzerland: The Striani Judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeals

In the last five years, the Striani case has been the main sword of Damocles hanging over UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. At the very least, the only real judicial threat they have faced (apart from the relatively harmless challenge mounted in the Galatasaray case at the CAS). Indeed, a Belgian player agent, Daniele Striani, represented by Bosman’s former lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, attempted, in various fora, to challenge the compatibility of UEFA’s CL&FFP Regulations with EU law. Striani lodged a complaint with the European Commission (which was quickly rejected in October 2014) and initiated a private action for damages before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The latter deemed itself not competent to decide on the matter, but nevertheless accepted to order a provisory stay of the enforcement of the UEFA FFP Regulations pending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (see Ben van Rompuy’s blog on the case here). The CJEU unsurprisingly rejected to enter into the matter, but UEFA and Striani decided to appeal the first instance ruling to the Court of Appeal, which rendered its decision on 11 April. It is unclear at this stage whether Striani will attempt to challenge it at the Belgian Cour de Cassation (Highest Civil Court), however this would entail considerable risks and costs and his lawyers to date have not indicated that they would do so (see here). 

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal does not touch upon the much-discussed question of the compatibility of UEFA’s FFP Regulations with EU law (see our many blogs on the question here, here and here), it remains an interesting decision to discuss broader questions related to the procedural ease in challenging regulatory decisions passed by sports governing bodies (SGBs) based in Switzerland. Competition law constitutes the main legal tool available to sports stakeholders looking to challenge existing regulatory arrangements from the outside (e.g. not going through the internal political systems of the SGBs or the CAS route). Recent cases, such as the ISU decision of the European Commission, the Pechstein case in front of the German courts or the Rule 40 decision of the German competition authority, have demonstrated the potency of competition law to question the legality of the rules and decisions of the SGBs.[1] In this regard, the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal narrows the range of parties allowed to challenge in European courts the SGBs’ rules and decisions on the basis of competition law. More...

Can European Citizens Participate in National Championships? An Analysis of AG Tanchev’s Opinion in TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

1.     Introduction

To many it may seem obvious that athletes in a national championship should only be able to participate if they have the nationality of the relevant state. The Dutch Road Cycling National Championships should have Dutch cyclists, and the German Athletics Championships should have German athletes and so forth. However, in reality, foreign competitors are allowed to participate in many national championships in the EU, and there is a wide discrepancy between the rules of national sport governing bodies on this issue. There is no unified practice when investigating this point by country or by sport, and rules on participation range from a complete ban on foreign competitors to absolutely no mention of foreign athletes.[1] Thus, the question arises: should foreign athletes be able to participate in national sport championships?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will soon be required to provide an, at least partial, answer to this dilemma as a result of an application for a preliminary ruling.  A German Court has referred three questions to the CJEU on the case TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. (DLV) which in essence ask whether EU citizenship rights and in particular, the requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, should be applied to non-nationals wishing to participate in an athletics national championship in Germany. In the meantime, the Advocate General (AG), who provides a non-binding opinion to the Court before a decision is delivered, Evgeni Tanchev has delivered an interesting opinion on the case. It addresses the claims from the applicants based on EU citizenship rights and urges the CJEU to instead review the case on the basis of the freedom of establishment.

This blog will dissect the AG’s opinion to assess the main arguments put forward in relation to freedom of establishment and EU citizenship. Furthermore, it will weigh the ramifications this case may have on the boundaries of EU law in relation to sport. To fully appreciate the AG’s opinion, it is necessary to first discuss the intriguing factual and legal background colouring this case. After all, this will not be the first time the CJEU faces thorny issues concerning discrimination on the basis of nationality and sport. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February and March 2019. By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines

The Court of Arbitration for Sport bans 12 Russian track and field athletes

On 1 February 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) communicated that it had rendered another 12 decisions in the seemingly endless saga concerning the state-sponsored doping programme in Russia. These first-instance decisions of the CAS involve 12 Russian track and field athletes who were all found guilty of anti-doping rule violations based on the evidence underlying the reports published by professor Richard McLaren and suspended from participating in sports competitions for periods ranging from two to eight years. Arguably the most prominent name that appears on the list of banned athletes is Ivan Ukhov, the 32-year-old high jump champion from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The case was brought by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) that sought to convince the arbitrators that the athletes in question had participated in and/or benefited from anabolic steroid doping programmes and benefited from specific protective methods (washout schedules) in the period between the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The CAS was acting in lieau of the Russian Athletics Federation that remains suspended and thus unable to conduct any disciplinary procedures. The athletes have had the opportunity to appeal the decisions to the CAS Appeals Arbitration Division.

Federal Cartel Office in Germany finds Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter disproportionately restrictive

At the end of February, the German competition authority Bundeskartellamt announced that it had entered into a commitment agreement with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which these two organisations had agreed to considerably enhance advertising opportunities for German athletes and their sponsors during the Olympic Games. The respective agreement is a direct consequence of the Bundeskartellamt’s finding that the IOC and the DOSB had abused their dominant position on the market for organising and marketing the Olympic Games by demanding that the athletes refrain from promoting their own sponsors while the Games are ongoing, as well as shortly before and after the Games. This restriction stems from Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter under which no competitor who participates in the Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes, unless the IOC Executive Board allows him/her to do so.

As part of fulfilling its obligations under the commitment agreement, the DOSB has relaxed its guidelines on promotional activities of German athletes during the Olympic Games. For its part, the IOC has declared that these new guidelines would take precedence over Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter. However, it still remains to be seen whether in response to the conclusions of the German competition authority the IOC will finally change the contentious rule.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights refuses to pronounce itself on Claudia Pechstein’s case

Claudia Pechstein’s challenge against the CAS brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has not yielded the desired result for the German athlete. On 5 February 2019, a Panel of the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR decided that the Grand Chamber would not entertain the case. This means that the judgment handed down by the 3rd Chamber of the ECtHR on 2 October 2018, in which the ECtHR confirmed that except for the lack of publicity of oral hearings the procedures of the CAS are compatible with the right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, has now become final and binding. However, the protracted legal battle between the five-time Olympic champion in speed skating and the CAS is not over yet since there is one more challenge against the CAS and its independence pending before the German Constitutional Court.  More...

New Event! FIFA and Human Rights: Impacts, Policies, Responsibilities - 8 May 2019 - Asser Institute

In the past few years, FIFA underwent intense public scrutiny for human rights violations surrounding the organisation of the World Cup 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. This led to a reform process at FIFA, which involved a number of policy changes, such as:

  • Embracing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • The inclusion of human rights in the FIFA Statutes;
  • Adopting new bidding rules including human rights requirements;
  • And introducing a Human Rights Advisory Board.

To take stock of these changes, the Asser Institute and the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research (NNHRR), are organising a conference on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and human rights, which will take place at the Asser Institute in The Hague on 8 May 2019.

This one-day conference aims to take a deeper look at FIFA’s impacts on human rights and critically investigate the measures it has adopted to deal with them. Finally, we will also address FIFA’s potential legal responsibilities under a variety of human rights laws/instruments.

Preliminary Programme

9:00 Registration & Coffee

9:45 Welcome by Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) & Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

10:00 Opening Remarks by Andreas Graf (Human Rights Officer, FIFA)

10:30 Panel 1: FIFA & Human Rights: Impacts

  • Zoher Shabbir (University of York) – The correlation between forced evictions and developing nations hosting the FIFA World Cup
  • Roman Kiselyov (European Human Rights Advocacy Centre) - FIFA World Cup as a Pretext for a Crackdown on Human Rights
  • Eleanor Drywood (Liverpool University) - FIFA and children’s rights: theory, methodology and practice 

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Panel 2: FIFA & Human Rights: Policies

  • Lisa Schöddert & Bodo Bützler (University of Cologne) – FIFA’s eigen-constitutionalisation and its limits
  • Gigi Alford (World Players Association) - Power Play: FIFA’s voluntary human rights playbook does not diminish Switzerland’s state power to protect against corporate harms
  • Brendan Schwab (World Players Association) & Craig Foster - FIFA, human rights and the threatened refoulement of Hakeem Al Araibi 

14:30 Break

15:00 Panel 3: FIFA & Human Rights: Responsibilities

  • Daniel Rietiker (ECtHR and University of Lausanne) - The European Court of Human Rights and Football: Current Issues and Potential
  • Jan Lukomski (Łukomski Niklewicz law firm) - FIFA and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights : Obligations, duties and remedies regarding the labour rights         protected under the ICESCR
  • Raquel Regueiro Dubra (Complutense University of Madrid) - Shared international responsibility for human rights violations in global events. The case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Wojciech Lewandowski (Polish Academy of Sciences/University of Warsaw) - Is Bauer the new Bosman? – The implications of the newest CJEU jurisprudence for FIFA and other sport governing bodies

17:00 Closing Remarks by Mary Harvey (Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human Rights)

More information and registration at

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2019 - By Tomáš Grell

 Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines


The plight of Hakeem al-Araibi – the 25-year-old refugee footballer who was arrested last November in Bangkok upon his arrival from Australia on the basis of a red notice issued by Interpol in contravention of its own policies which afford protection to refugees and asylum-seekers – continued throughout the month of January. Bahrain – the country Hakeem al-Araibi fled in 2014 due to a (well-founded) fear of persecution stemming from his previous experience when he was imprisoned and tortured as part of the crackdown on pro-democracy athletes who had protested against the royal family during the Arab spring – maintained a firm stance, demanding that Hakeem be extradited to serve a prison sentence over a conviction for vandalism charges, which was allegedly based on coerced confessions and ignored evidence.

While international sports governing bodies were critised from the very beginning for not using enough leverage with the governments of Bahrain and Thailand to ensure that Hakeem’s human rights are protected, they have gradually added their voice to the intense campaign for Hakeem’s release led by civil society groups. FIFA, for example, has sent a letter directly to the Prime Minister of Thailand, urging the Thai authorities ‘to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards’. Yet many activists have found this action insufficient and called for sporting sanctions to be imposed on the national football associations of Bahrain and Thailand.      

When it looked like Hakeem will continue to be detained in Thailand at least until April this year, the news broke that the Thai authorities agreed to release Hakeem due to the fact that for now the Bahraini government had given up on the idea of bringing Hakeem ‘home’ – a moment that was praised as historic for the sport and human rights movement.

Russia avoids further sanctions from WADA despite missing the deadline for handing over doping data from the Moscow laboratory 

WADA has been back in turmoil ever since the new year began as the Russian authorities failed to provide it with access to crucial doping data from the former Moscow laboratory within the required deadline which expired on 31 December 2018, insisting that the equipment WADA intended to use for the data extraction was not certified under Russian law. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency thus failed to meet one of the two conditions under which its three-year suspension was controversially lifted in September 2018. The missed deadline sparked outrage among many athletes and national anti-doping organisations, who blamed WADA for not applying enough muscle against the Russian authorities.

Following the expiry of the respective deadline, it appeared that further sanctions could be imposed on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, but such an option was on the table only until WADA finally managed to access the Moscow laboratory and retrieve the doping data on 17 January 2019. Shortly thereafter, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie hailed the progress as a major breakthrough for clean sport and members of the WADA Executive Committee agreed that no further sanctions were needed despite the missed deadline. However, doubts remain as to whether the data have not been manipulated. Before WADA delivers on its promise and builds strong cases against the athletes who doped – to be handled by international sports federations – it first needs to do its homework and verify whether the retrieved data are indeed genuine.  

British track cyclist Jessica Varnish not an employee according to UK employment tribunal

On 16 January 2019, an employment tribunal in Manchester rendered a judgment with wider implications for athletes and sports governing bodies in the United Kingdom, ruling that the female track cyclist Jessica Varnish was neither an employee nor a worker of the national governing body British Cycling and the funding agency UK Sport. The 28-year-old multiple medal winner from the world and European championships takes part in professional sport as an independent contractor but sought to establish before the tribunal that she was in fact an employee of the two organisations. This would enable her to sue either organisation for unfair dismissal as she was dropped from the British cycling squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and her funding agreement was not renewed, allegedly in response to her critical remarks about some of the previous coaching decisions.

The tribunal eventually dismissed her challenge, concluding that ‘she was not personally performing work provided by the respondent – rather she was personally performing a commitment to train in accordance with the individual rider agreement in the hope of achieving success at international competitions’. Despite the outcome of the dispute, Jessica Varnish has insisted that her legal challenge contributed to a positive change in the structure, policies and personnel of British Cycling and UK Sport, while both organisations have communicated they had already taken action to strengthen the duty of care and welfare provided to athletes.  


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Official Documents and Press Releases


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Upcoming Events

Call for papers - Third Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 24 and 25 October 2019 - Asser Institute

The Editors of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invite you to submit abstracts for the third ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 24 and 25 October 2019 at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ, published by Springer and Asser Press, is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. The conference is a unique occasion to discuss the main legal issues affecting international sports with renowned academic experts and practitioners.

We are delighted to announce the following confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Beckie Scott (Chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Athlete Committee, Olympic Champion, former member of the WADA Executive Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)),
  • Ulrich Haas (Professor of Law at Univerzität Zürich, CAS arbitrator), and
  • Kimberly Morris (Head of FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS) Integrity and Compliance).

We welcome abstracts from academics and practitioners on any question related to international sports law. We also welcome panel proposals (including a minimum of three presenters) on a specific issue. For this year’s edition, we specifically invite submissions on the following themes:

  • The role of athletes in the governance of international sports
  • The evolution of sports arbitration, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport
  •  The role and functioning of the FIFA transfer system, including the FIFA TMS
  •  The intersection between criminal law and international sports (in particular issues of corruption, match-fixing, human trafficking, tax evasion)
  • Hooliganism
  • Protection of minor athletes
  • Civil and criminal liability relating to injuries in sports

Please send your abstract of 300 words and CV no later than 30 April 2019 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2019. All papers presented at the conference are eligible (subjected to peer-review) for publication in a special issue of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference issue of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2019.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 250€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please indicate it in your submission. 

A Reflection on the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands and works as Research Officer for the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


On November 26th, the Human Rights Advisory Board[1] of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) published its second report. This blog provides a summary and brief evaluation of the report, by drawing a comparison to the previous report issued by the Human Rights Advisory Board (hereinafter: the Board) based on the content of the recommendations and FIFA’s efforts to implement the Board’s recommendations. The third part of this blog briefly reflects on the broader implications of some of the new recommendations issued for FIFA’s internal policies. The conclusion provides five more general points of observation on the report. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions.


2.     Context to the Event

Before diving into the panels, the scene was set by a few speakers who described the background and some of the main issues encircling the event. First, Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) kicked the day off by describing the general goal of the project and his role within it. Specifically, Duval strives to explore key questions such as: to what extent are SGB’s diplomatic actors and do they have human rights responsibilities? Also, what is the role of the EU’s sports diplomacy with regard to human rights at MSEs? Can it and should it get involved and if so, what could it do to be most effective?

Having laid the foundation of the event, Richard Parrish (Edge Hill University) described the background to the project ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. Parrish explained that while many countries have a clear sports diplomacy strategy, the EU has been rather ‘late’ to the party. He explained that there may be room for a soft power approach to EU sports diplomacy. The project aims to continue the political momentum gained from a 2016 report on EU sports diplomacy and has now held several events across Europe that analyze this subject from different lenses. Parrish concluded by explaining that the EU has started to be more conscious of this issue and has, for example, now included sport in its dialogue with China for the first time.

Simon Rofe (SOAS) then brought some introductory remarks to help frame the discussions that would follow. Rofe started by pointing out how human rights and diplomacy have not exactly gone hand in hand and that many diplomatic instruments are rather silent on human rights, which often has been intentional. Furthermore, there are also issues when trying to identify which and what form of human rights should be promoted, although the UN has played a leading role in this regard. There are also questions regarding what capacity for change there is within SGBs. Rofe also gave the example of how human rights have already been disseminated through sport, such as during apartheid in South Africa. Nevertheless, as SGBs gain greater roles in non-sport matters, their responsibility to respect and further human rights is significantly increased.

3.     The Panels

a.     Panel 1: Leveraging the Diplomatic Power of the Sports Governing Bodies for Human Rights

Now that the stage was set, the first panel took the floor with Antoine Duval acting as chair. Claire Jenkin (University of Hertfordshire) was the first to speak and examined the concept of legacies, especially in terms of children and young people. In other words, how can SGBs help leave positive human rights legacies in the MSEs host nations? Jenkin took the example of the International Inspiration Programme from the London 2012 Olympics, which was the first ever international legacy initiative linked to the Olympics and ran from 2007-2014. Its goal was to reach out to young people and bring sport to the youth beyond the context of the Games. In the end, it helped influence 55 national policies, strategies and legislative amendments. Jenkin highlighted, once more, how defining which human rights values to promote can be challenging. There are also many in a position that can promote human rights through sport but are simply not aware of their position as a ‘sport diplomat’. Hence, creating awareness, defining the appropriate human rights perspective and ensuring that young voices are heard in this process are essential to developing the SGBs’ human rights diplomacies.

Next up was Florian Kirschner (World Players Association/UNI Global Union) who looked at how SGBs have exercised their human rights diplomatic role. Kirschner illustrated how sport has a fundamental role in our society and is naturally connected to several human rights. The sports movement also clings to principles such as fairness, solidarity, equality and inclusion. However, Kirschner argued, SGBs have not always upheld these principles and pointed to several examples, such as widespread corruption, the award of MSEs to countries with questionable human rights records, suppression of free speech and violations of worker’s rights. There have also been instances of ‘sportwashing’, where states use sport events to try to give the impression that they are compliant with human rights, while coming short of their obligations in practice. The World Players Association, NGOs and other trade unions have come together to push SGBs, under the UN framework, to take greater account of human rights. Kirschner closed with the case of Hakeem al-Araibi and highlighted how many actors, including FIFA, were able to use their influence to push for his release.

Lucy Amis (Unicef UK/Institute for Human Rights and Business) then explained to the participants the importance of transferring the policies SGBs have adopted in relation to human rights into actual practice. This means developing strategies that enforce the values SGBs claim to uphold. There are numerous cases where sport has not lived up to these values: including cases where migrant workers are exploited to build MSE sport facilities, cases of child labor, and various instances where fans chant homophobic and racist slurs. Amis highlighted that SGBs must be especially diligent in cases affecting children because they face the highest risk of exploitation. On the other hand, sports diplomacy has helped initiate positive changes in some countries. In Rwanda, sport was used to help rebuild its society amidst significant adversities. There have also been encouraging developments in Qatar. Despite many calls to cancel the World Cup, FIFA’s persistence to hold the World Cup there has helped bring an end to the kafala system. All in all, challenges do remain. For instance, many national SGBs are limited to a very small and amateur staff, which creates greater challenges in creating, implementing and enforcing human rights strategies.

Finally, Guido Battaglia (Centre for Sport and Human Rights) closed the panel and began by giving an overview of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ goals and work. Battaglia described how the Centre’s main priority is helping those who are most affected by sports - the athletes, workers, and fans, among others - based on international human rights standards. The Centre promotes and fosters human rights in sport by bringing a wide variety of actors together, including SGBs, local organizing committees, governments, sponsors, broadcasters, international organizations, civil society and trade unions. The aim is to help these groups share best practices, increase their capacities and improve accountability on human rights issues. Battaglia then shared examples of how the Centre has been active in the field. One of these cases concerned Semyon Simonov, a human rights activist in Russia, who had been arrested while interviewing workers building World Cup stadiums in Volgograd. During this time, the Centre held a conference during which Human Rights Watch directly requested FIFA to monitor the situation. This eventually prompted FIFA to attend one of Simonov’s court hearings, acting as a sort of diplomatic pressure and signaling the sports world was watching. Battaglia concluded that pushing human rights through sports diplomacy, while still in its infancy, is gaining momentum and that there is enormous potential to help unite society through sport.


b.     Panel 2: A Human Rights Dimension for the EU’s Sports Diplomacy?

The second panel, chaired by Carmen Perez (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid), then directly confronted the central question of how the EU could develop a human rights-based sports diplomacy. Arnout Geeraert (Utrecht University) launched the panel with a purposively provocative statement that EU sports diplomacy is ridiculous and that fundamentally there should be a deepening rather than a widening of its action in this matter. Since the EU has limited resources to focus on its sports diplomacy, it should work to strengthen its current efforts. Generally, the EU promotes liberal norms such as liberty, anti-discrimination, democracy, human rights and good governance in its actions. In the sports sector, the EU has had the greatest success in steering SGBs through negative integration and soft power measures, and SGB usually comply because they seek to be on good terms with the EU. In the end, Geeraert contends that the EU’s sport diplomacy should be to place more pressure on SGBs through a variety of existing channels, including coordinating EU member state positions in international organizations like the Council of Europe, and forming alliances with non-member states. The EU could then push human rights through these various relationships, which would indirectly compel SGBs to respect human rights.

Agata Dziarnowska (European Commission) took a different view from Geeraert and argued that a widening of the EU’s sport diplomacy should also be a part of the EU’s strategy in this field. Fundamentally, Dziarnowska argued, soft power is the EU’s most effective tool, and when you add the fact that Article 165 TFEU gives the EU the ability to cooperate with third countries on issues related to sport, there is a clear path for the EU to act. When it does so, it should be promoting EU values, including those related to human rights. In this context, the EU has already begun to take action within this strategic framework. For example, promoting the aforementioned values will be part of the new Erasmus programme. Additionally, the Council relatively recently adopted Conclusions related to sports events to ‘enhance integrity, transparency and good governance in major sport events’. These Conclusions specifically addressed business and human rights principles and highlight the importance of the selection process. Dziarnowska closed by underlining that EU action will greatly rely on strong political support, particularly from the Member States.

Alexandre Mestre (Sport and Citizenship) built on Dziarnowska’s contention that there is indeed an avenue for the EU to intervene on human rights. Given the wording of Article 165 TFEU, there are a multitude of areas for EU action. Mestre explained that crucial issues such as fighting against human trafficking, doping, child labor, sexual abuse of athletes, excessive commercial/economic exploitation of athletes are matter that deserve the EU’s attention. Furthermore, recent cases, such as Caster Semenya’s dispute with World Athletics, has shown how the SGBs’ eligibility rules could be another area where the EU could add value, given its previous experience with eligibility. Moreover, the EU has tremendous experience dealing with cases of discrimination and could use this expertise as a basis to promote human rights issues. Like Geeraert, Mestre also sees the EU increasing its cooperation with other entities, such as with the Council of Europe, civil society and third countries hosting MSEs. Mestre, nevertheless, also envisages direct cooperation with SGBs as part of the EU’s sports diplomacy strategy.

Lastly, Christian Salm (European Parliamentary Research Service) gave a historical perspective on the EU’s sports diplomacy, emphasizing the European Parliament’s role. Salm described how the 1970s were truly pivotal in this story, especially since it was the ‘decade of breakthrough’ for human rights. There were two events that placed human rights as a top priority: the World Cup in Argentina in 1978 and the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Concerning the first, the European Parliament’s Political Affairs Committee decided to have a hearing concerning human rights to counter political propaganda from Argentina’s right-wing military regime. While the hearing was blocked by a vote, the socialist group decided to hold its own debate, which created a significant media interest. The hearing generated calls for the release of the opposition leader in Argentina and led to a wider debate concerning sport events, specifically with regards to boycotts. Salm then described how leading up to the 1980 Moscow Olympics the international situation following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the wave of oppression on human rights activists stimulated majority support amongst the European Parliament to boycott the Olympics. While the European Parliament was in many ways limited, it understood its role as a guardian of human rights and was able to generate significant attention to these issues. More recently, in February 2014 the European Parliament also held a public hearing on migrant workers building stadiums. With this perspective, Salm explained, the European Parliament can definitely play a part in developing a human rights dimension to EU sports diplomacy.


4.     Conclusion

After each of the panels, participants were able to ask questions which stimulated many fruitful discussions, such as the importance of including human rights considerations in MSE bidding processes and defining an overall EU diplomatic strategy that would effectively use the EU’s leverage on these questions. On the latter issue, to prevent a fragmented diplomatic approach, the second panel concluded that coordination between all EU actors and informal policy making – such as raising awareness through public hearings and conferences – can help create a cohesive and effective EU sports diplomacy scheme. In any event, from all the discussions, it is evident that human rights will need to play a greater role in any EU sports diplomacy strategy given the inherent human rights concerns that MSEs carry.

On behalf of the organizers, we would like to thank all the speakers and participants for ensuring a remarkably productive and rich event in difficult times. We look forward to seeing you at the Institute again soon!

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