Why activist athletes are needed today more than ever

athlete

(Alexander Schimmeck, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Mary Harvey, CEO, Centre for Sport and Human Rights


  • Activism in sports has a proud history in the US and around the world, and current events are making it more important than ever.
  • Building on this and finding a way forward will require leadership at every level of society – including from high-profile athletes.
  • To make a real difference, however, athletes need to be supported by all actors in sport.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Those were among the words San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spoke in August 2016 to explain his views on ongoing racial injustice in the United States, and why he refused to stand for the national anthem before an NFL pre-season game. Kaepernick decided to kneel during subsequent games, too; his actions inspired many, but were heavily criticized as well. There were calls for NFL owners to fire players who followed his lead.

Kaepernick’s protests have rushed back into public consciousness in the aftermath of the brutal actions against George Floyd, the man whose death has become one of the symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and around the world. The stark side-by-side images of Kaepernick ‘taking a knee’ and the police officer who pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck during an arrest in Minneapolis speak volumes. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Floyd’s death has triggered massive public demonstrations throughout the US and around the world, with protesters demanding solutions to systemic police abuse and wider racial and social injustice.

 

Where do we go from here? Can sport help address in real ways the wrongs of the past and present, and help build a better and more just future for all?

Those are big questions with no quick answers. What is clear is that finding a way forward will require principled leadership at all levels of society, including by high profile athletes. Kaepernick’s activism, and the support he has received from other sporting figures, most recently, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, is a reminder of the critical roles athletes and other public figures have played over the years, both as symbols of social change and as advocates for needed reforms. It also calls us to remember why freedom of expression is a fundamental right, and why more dialogue and understanding is needed, including on how that right is responsibly exercised in the world of sport.

It is worth recalling the proud tradition of athlete activism in the US. Think of Jackie Robinson’s example of integrating professional baseball, or Billie Jean King pushing for gender equality in tennis. Think of Muhammed Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, which inspired the Black Power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Think also of the roles athletes like Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson played in de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS and of the ongoing activism of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, whose writing and leadership have helped shaped public discussions about issues of race and religion. Colin Kaepernick follows in that long tradition.

As Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue to grow, more athletes are now speaking out. Numerous professionals from major professional leagues have taken to the streets to join protestors. NFL players came together to call on the league to condemn racism and admit fault for attempting to silence players. Their voices are clearly making a difference; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league was “wrong for not listening” to players earlier and for not encouraging all to speak out and peacefully protest.

The NFL and other sports leagues, including the Olympic movement, are big businesses and their leadership must now take the next steps, working alongside athletes and other stakeholders. They clearly face many challenges, not only about how to return to play safely during the ongoing pandemic, but also how to the ensure respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression. Sports leagues have a difficult but critical role to play in supporting athletes who stand up for human rights.

We shouldn’t be surprised that athletes wish to express their identities and beliefs while on and off the playing field. It is time to see athletes who speak up for who they are. But we also recognize that their actions need to be supported by all actors in sport, not just the athletes themselves.

It is the responsibility of all involved in sport to develop strategies that support free expression and assembly just as they must for all other international human rights standards. Steps to intervene should be taken only if views being expressed undermine others’ human rights. Freedom of expression must be exercised in ways that ensure respect for the rights and reputations of others.

There is a great deal of work to be done to help ensure that the voices of athletes and others are heard and respected as we confront this central human rights struggle of our day. We at the Centre for Sport and Human Rights already engage with a broad range of actors in the world of sport, searching for practical solutions to human rights concerns from improving the conditions of workers who build and work at sport venues to protecting the safety and health of child athletes. We know what can be achieved when all involved in sport have a seat at the table in decision-making and when all work together to create the change that is needed.

We have an unprecedented opportunity today to broaden those conversations even further and include even more voices in much needed dialogue and joint action to foster racial and social justice around the world. We’re convinced doing so will not only help sport achieve its highest ideals, but will also contribute to making our world a place that truly respects the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

I accidentally went viral on TikTok. I learned we failed our youngest generation.

“The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote peace, development and stability”, Ambassador Zhang of the Chinese Mission to EU highlights from European Business Summit 2018

Our tourism system is broken – time to customize

Dozens of children at risk as clashes in Hudaydah near hospital – UNICEF

Can autonomous cars make traffic jams a thing of the past?

UN chief sends condolences to families of Malawi flood victims

Trade in fake Italian goods costs economy billions of euros

UN envoy ‘encouraged’ by latest talks on avoiding ‘worst-case scenario’ in Syria’s Idlib

5 things to know about the Western Balkans

Countries must make teaching profession more financially and intellectually attractive

Will Brexit shatter the EU or is it still too early to predict?

MEPs commend Ukraine‘s reform efforts and denounce Russian aggression

Budget MEPs approve €104.2 m in EU aid to Greece, Spain, France and Portugal

Containers at the port of Tokyo. (Copyright: European Union, 2016. Source: EC - Audiovisual Service. Photo: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi)

EU cuts fast-track free trade deals with Japan and Singapore and leads the trade scene

Telemedicine and the Brazilian reality

Don’t take African generosity towards refugees for granted, says UN refugee chief

Brexiteer May gets lip-service from Trump and Turkish promises from Erdogan

UNICEF delivers medical supplies to Gaza in wake of deadly protests

New York high school students are getting free water bottles to cut plastic waste

EU: All economic indicators in free fall

8 amazing facts to help you understand China today

Denmark plans ‘Silicon Valley’ on 9 artificial islands off Copenhagen

Deal on digitalisation of access to justice will benefit citizens

The 28 EU leaders show contempt for the European Elections results

First-ever EU defence industry fund to finance joint development of capabilities

Brexit negotiations: back to square one, tougher words, no good faith

Mario Draghi quizzed for last time by Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

Antimicrobial resistance: how can an intersectoral approach between society and healthcare professionals be developed and applied?

EU Leaders’ meeting in Sofia: Completing a trusted Digital Single Market for the benefit of all

Who will secure Lithuania?

UN condemns Syrian ‘war on children’ as up to 30 reportedly killed in clashes

Number of MEPs to be reduced after EU elections in 2019

How cities are failing to be inclusive – and what they can do about it

Coronavirus: Commission welcomes Parliament’s quick green light for proposed new resources to protect lives and livelihoods

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Poverty report reveals ‘vast inequalities’, measles compounds DRC Ebola woes, Guterres visits Mozambique, Bangladesh update, freedom of expression online

Japan’s holiest shrine is pulled down and rebuilt every 20 years – on purpose

MasterCard at European Business Summit 2015: A focus on innovation will drive inclusive economic growth for Europe

Parliament toughens its position on banking union

Education critical to ensure future of forests, and reverse their destruction

Sustainable Development Goals: making the world a better place

“China is the only BRICS country to have either met or possibly slightly surpassed my expectations”, BRICS inventor Jim O’ Neil from Switzerland; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

The future of international election observation missions

EU-US resume trade negotiations under the spell of NSA surveillance

Ukraine: Temperatures plunge amid rising humanitarian needs

Russia must urgently step up fight against foreign bribery

Bayer’s cross at night (Copyright: Bayer AG)

The EU clears Bayer-Monsanto merger amid wide competition and environmental concerns

Bank resolutions to remain a politically influenced affair

Asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, symptomatic: what is the difference?

This AI trash can is designed to stop you wasting food

To hope or doubt? The state of women’s progress in the world

EU, Canada and China co-host international meeting on climate cooperation and a sustainable economic recovery

‘Stand united against anti-Muslim hatred’ urges Guterres, after mosque shootings in New Zealand leave 49 dead

The ocean is teeming with microplastic – a million times more than we thought, suggests new research

UN commission agrees roadmap on ensuring women’s social protection, mobility, safety, and access to economic opportunities

South Africa’s economy in 5 charts

Four things the UN chief wants world leaders to know, at key COP24 climate conference opening

Betazone: The Beauty of Inclusion

5 ways to make your organization a great sustainability partner

“Move fast, build to last: Europe’s new generation” – op-ed by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Why we need a Paris Agreement for nature

More Stings?

Advertising

Trackbacks

  1. […] All copyrights for this article are reserved to this source […]

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s