Press Releases, Human Rights

Ahead of the 2022 Winter Games Sport and Human Rights: Options for Action for Athletes, States, Federations, and Sponsors

Berlin, February 3, 2022. Shortly before the Winter Games in Beijing, Athleten Deutschland publishes the following discussion paper that highlights various aspects of the discussion on sporting and diplomatic boycotts. Further, it addresses the responsibilities and possible causes for action of different stakeholders such as athletes, states and their governments, sponsors, and National Olympic Committees. In this way, we want to back athletes and take pressure off them. We also show ways in which sport can fulfill its human rights responsibilities internationally and nationally in the future and bring its values credibly back to life.

To us, there are several reasons why a sporting boycott is not an option. While, in theory, it could be a highly effective instrument, it is not practically feasible at this stage. Athletes could be the most powerful group in the world of sports. Yet, this is not the case, as their collective self-organization still requires significant progress globally.

If athletes choose not to participate in the Olympic Games for ethical reasons, they must be able to do so without fearing disadvantages. On an individual level it is legitimate to pursue their profession and to participate in the Olympic Games. There is no real choice for the athletes to decide freely for or against a the Olympic Games. Therefore, they should not be expected to shoulder the individual costs of abstaining from the Olympic Games.

On site, the participants must encounter conditions in which they can freely express themselves without fearing sanctions. It helps when politics and sporting federations get behind the athletes and stand up for their freedom of expression.

Not the athletes, but the IOC is responsible for awarding and hosting of the Games. Athletes were excluded from all awarding and decision-making processes, had no say whatsoever, and are affected themselves.  It is therefore unjust that years later they should have to pay for the IOC’s mistakes. The IOC bears the overall responsibility. To date, it has not or inadequately fulfilled its human rights responsibilities (see Appendix).

Aside from the human rights risks in the Olympic Movement’s realm of responsibility, we call for a debate on red lines and limits regarding future awarding decisions to ensure that similar situations do not repeat themselves. Silence cannot be the answer if the IOC wants to restore trust and revive the values of sport.

Most of the TOP sponsors have committed themselves to comply with human rights standards based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Hence, they should critically reflect on their sponsorship decision for an organization like the IOC that, as of now, has inadequately fulfilled its human rights responsibilities.

It is up to politics to decide whether a diplomatic boycott is an effective instrument. In any case, the international community should not only take a stance against China, but also promote national and international efforts to ensure that sports associations fulfill their human rights due diligence obligations in the future.

Compliance with the human rights due diligence obligations of sports federations must be the foundation of the integrity of sport and a prerequisite for a responsible approach to the autonomy granted to sport. In the future, state funding for sport must be linked to compliance of federations with their human rights due diligence obligations.

We welcome the German Olympic Sport Federation’s (DOSB) numerous efforts in the past weeks to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games and to take adequate precautions for quarantine and crisis situations on site. We hope that the DOSB will take a clear stance on the human rights responsibility of sport and, in the future, exert its influence internationally.

Nationally, the DOSB can set an excellent example as a global pioneer: A human rights policy, including a coherent and comprehensive statutory commitment to human rights, would be pathbreaking for German sport. On this basis, German sport could fulfill its human rights responsibilities by implementing a human rights strategy and proactively countering human rights risks.

Athleten Deutschland is hopeful that the newly elected German Federal Government and the new DOSB leadership will make a substantial contribution nationally and internationally to strengthening human rights aspects in sport and thus contribute to the fulfillment of human rights.