Rarely does a topic engage people in such a passionate way as sports. International sporting competitions are among the most anticipated and keenly followed events in the world. Even away from the spotlights, sports can play a significant role in the day-to-day life of anyone who follows, plays or competes in one way or another. Sports move the hearts and minds of millions.
Yet, sports can also negatively impact peoples’ lives. We’ve all heard the dreadful stories of workers suffering inhumane conditions and even risking their lives as they rush to meet the deadline to inaugurate a stadium. We’ve learned that vulnerable young athletes can be subject to harassment and abuse in training for the sport they love. We’ve seen women banned from stadiums, and athletes barred from competitions based solely on their gender identity. And we’ve witnessed how impunity can prevail when journalists and human rights defenders can be censored, arbitrarily detained or more severely harmed for bringing attention to these issues.
Sports are exceptionally powerful drivers of change. It is precisely because of that unique influence, and that intrinsic faith that so many of us place in them, that we need global sports organizations to recognize their inherent responsibility to respect human dignity everywhere they operate.
At Shift, we decided to dive into the world of sports precisely because of that duality: on the one hand, because we understand the significant impacts that the sector can have on people’s lives. On the other hand, because we know that there is immense opportunity (and responsibility) in leveraging the passion, excitement and size of this multi-billion-dollar industry to ensure that human dignity is duly respected.
When we began working in the world of sports we were certain about two things: first, that even though we were going into a new field, we had the knowledge and experience we needed to dissect the sector, analyze its human rights risks and provide the hands-on expertise to help its decision-makers transform it for the better. And second, that if we were to do that, we needed to start at the top, influencing the governance bodies that set the rules of the game.
We found that first opportunity in 2015, supporting Professor John Ruggie in drafting ‘For the game. For the world’, a first of its kind report that provided FIFA, the global governing body for football, with an independent assessment of what it would mean to embed respect for human rights across its global operations.
Since then, Shift has continued to gain knowledge and experience across the world of sports. Today, our team members are breaking ground by helping two of the most influential sports organizations in the world as they work to meet their responsibility to respect people’s dignity. We are committed to being an objective, critical and transformative player in the sporting community, and to working side-by-side with trade unions, NGOs and the many other organizations who are driving change across this sector.
Since 2018, Shift has provided support to the International Olympic Committee's ongoing human rights efforts, including on human rights challenges connected to bidding and candidature processes for various editions of the Olympic Games and to the IOC's role as the leader of the Olympic Movement. We are bringing our expertise on the global standard - the UN Guiding Principles - and our practical, capacity-building approach to help the IOC move forward.
In addition to this operational support, starting in March 2019, Shift’s Managing Director, Rachel Davis has joined efforts with former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to provide recommendations to the IOC on the core content of a strategic framework on human rights. The joint recommendations were presented to President Bach in February 2020, and the IOC anncounced initial steps to implement them in early March 2020. You can read more on this here.
April 2016 | John G. Ruggie; Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School
This independent report by former Special Representative John Ruggie and Shift recommends how global football body FIFA needs to manage the far-reaching human rights risks associated with its activities and relationships.