Posts Tagged ‘sports and human rights’

FIFA World Cup: the human rights plans of host cities

April 17, 2022

On 5 April 2022, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) and a leading international law firm (Clifford Chance) have released a report that provides a perspective on the human rights plans of the cities vying to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup matches. The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans provides an overview of the diverse and wide-ranging plans published by the cities to address the human rights impact of hosting the international event for each of 22 candidate cities in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The collaborative work by CSHR [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/27/new-global-center-for-sport-and-human-rights-created-to-address-abuses/] and Clifford Chance is an independent report recognising highlights from each city’s human rights strategy, providing a view across numerous human rights factors addressed by the cities, including anti-discrimination, human rights-related environmental impact, and workers’ and housing rights. The report recognises proposed initiatives to advance human rights promotion and protection at a city-by-city level, highlighting commitments made in the respective candidate city bids. It also identifies opportunities for ongoing dialogue and peer-learning within and among the cities and stakeholders.

CSHR experts worked with a team of 13 Clifford Chance lawyers from New York, Washington, DC and London to review and analyse submissions from all 22 cities, from three countries, over nearly a three-month period. The report’s release comes in the run up to FIFA, the world’s governing body of football, selecting the host cities and will complement FIFA’s assessment of the cities’ human rights plans.

The Promise of a Positive Legacy includes a compelling colour-coded heatmap that offers an at-a-glance view of where cities have placed the greatest emphasis on human rights issues most salient to their own contexts.

United26 Istock 464570479 Final Square

The report: The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans

Download Here

https://www.sporthumanrights.org/news/cshr-and-clifford-chance-release-report-on-2026-fifa-world-cup-host-city-candidates-human-rights-plans/

FC Barcelona will support programmes for displaced children

March 28, 2022

Having pointed to football clubs’ bad behaviour on several occasions [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/25/premier-league-football-and-human-rights-continuing-saga/], it is fair to point out good examples: UNHCR, along with its National Association in Spain, Spain for UNHCR, announced 24 March 2022 a new partnership with FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

The partnership will span the next four years. From next season, the UNHCR logo will appear on the back of the iconic FC Barcelona jerseys worn by the men’s and women’s first team and the Barça Genuine Foundation team, below each player’s number, with the aim of raising awareness of the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world.

In addition, the Foundation will make a cash contribution of €400,000 per football season towards four UNHCR projects on four continents (€100,000 per project), plus a separate donation (valued by the club at €100,000 per season) of FC Barcelona sports equipment, as well as the technical expertise of the FC Barcelona Foundation’s sports specialists.

The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has stressed the club’s desire to respond to the growing number and complexity of refugee crises. UNHCR has been increasing its focus on the power of sport to help forcibly displaced people – and local communities that host them – to rebuild their lives.

FC Barcelona, through its Foundation, has collaborated with UNHCR since 2009 in various initiatives and programmes for people forced to flee. The Foundation has developed several of its own programmes in refugee settlements in Greece and Lebanon, and for unaccompanied children in Italy and Spain. In 2019, the FC Barcelona Foundation joined the Sport for Refugees Coalition, which was set up at UNHCR’s Global Refugee Forum, where it pledged to increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/3/623c47ef4/fc-barcelona-unhcr-unite-forcibly-displaced-children-worldwide.html

Premier League Football and human rights: continuing saga

March 25, 2022
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020.
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Images

The English Premier League should immediately adopt and implement human rights policies that would prohibit governments implicated in grave human rights abuses from securing stakes in Premier League clubs to whitewash their reputations, Human Rights Watch said 0n 23 March 2022. The ban should be extended to state entities that they control, abusive state leaders, and individuals funding or otherwise assisting in serious abuses. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/human-rights-compliance-test-for-football-clubs/

On March 14, 2022, media reported that a consortium led by a Saudi media group closely connected to the Saudi government had expressed interest in purchasing Chelsea Football Club. This reinforces the urgent need for the Premier League to adopt policies to protect clubs and their supporters, before any sale takes place, from being implicated in efforts to whitewash rights abuses. The Premier League’s approval of the sale of Newcastle United to a business consortium led by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government-controlled entity implicated in serious human rights abuses, was conducted in an opaque manner and without any human rights policy in place. The Premier League should reconsider the approval of the Newcastle United sale. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/]

Allowing Newcastle United to be sold to a business consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, an institution chaired by a state leader linked to human rights abuses, has exposed the farcical inadequacies of the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As another consortium with Saudi government links eyes acquiring Chelsea, the Premier League should move fast to protect the league and its clubs from being a fast-track option for dictators and kleptocrats to whitewash their reputations.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, on March 15, to express concerns over the Newcastle United decision and to raise further concerns about the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in facilitating human rights abuses.

The October 7, 2021 Premier League statement announcing the sale said that the league had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The league did not disclose what these assurances were, nor explain how they would be legally binding. Instead, the Premier League appears to have acquiesced to the notion that the Public Investment Fund is separate from the Saudi state, even though its chairman is the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its board members are nearly all currently serving ministers and other high-level officials, and it is a sovereign wealth fund that reports to the government’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs…

Human Rights Watch has significant concerns around the role of the investment fund itself in facilitating human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who, according to a LinkedIn page attributed to al-Rumayyan and various media reports, was managing director of the fund between 2015 and 2019, on December 21, 2021, and again on March 15 requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded. Al-Rumayyan is also Newcastle United’s new nonexecutive chairman.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official. The documents showed that in 2017, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process.

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The Premier League has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe. This gap has allowed Saudi Arabia to employ its “sportswashing” strategy in the Premier League.

On March 3, the Premier League said it was considering adding a human rights component to its owners’ and directors’ test as it reviews its governance and regulations, and Masters told the Financial Times that this had come under “a lot of scrutiny” and league officials were looking to see if “we need to be more transparent and whether those decisions should be approved by an independent body.” The Premier League should also investigate the allegations of involvement of the fund’s and al-Rumayyan’s involvement in abuses, including Khashoggi’s murder, and publish its findings.
 
Potential purchase of Chelsea FC by Saudi-led consortium
The Saudi-led consortium that has reportedly made a £2.7bn bid to purchase Chelsea is being spearheaded by the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), one of the largest publishing companies in Middle East, headed by a prominent Saudi media executive, Mohammed al Khereiji. The company owns more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News, and Arab News – media outlets with an apparently pro-Saudi government bias – and has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia where there are almost no independent media. Al- Khereiji is the only name mentioned in any reports regarding the Chelsea bid, and it is unclear who else is involved in the consortium.

While the media company has reportedly gone out of its way to deny any direct links to the Saudi government, it has repeatedly been reported that the group has longstanding close ties to former and current Saudi rulers. Between 2002 and 2015, three of King Salman’s sons chaired it. The position was then filled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan, who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, until 2018, when he was appointed culture minister. Prince Badr is also chairman of the Misk Art Institute, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s non-profit Misk Foundation.

In 2020, Al-Khereiji who holds several high-level positions, was appointed board chairman of MBC Media Solutions, a commercial advertising and sales unit created in partnership between MBC Group, a media conglomerate owned by the Saudi government, and Engineer Holding Group (EGH), the media company’s parent company which al-Khereiji also heads.

Given how closely connected the media company is to Saudi state-controlled entities, how little independence the Saudi-based media outlets under its control have, and how much influence it wields – it claims it has a combined monthly reach of 165 million people – it contributes heavily to promoting the image of the Saudi government.  

The Saudi government has gone all-out in the past years to bury its human rights abuses under public spectacles and sporting events,” Ahmed said. “Until there is real accountability for these abuses by the Saudi leadership, those silently benefiting from the kingdom’s largess risk being an accomplice in whitewashing their crimes.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/23/english-premier-league-urgently-adopt-human-rights-policy

More sports washing with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury clash set for Saudi Arabia in August

May 12, 2021

BT.com reports on 11 May 2021 that the all-British showdown between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion is set to take place on one of the first two Saturdays in August in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn.)

“August 7, August 14,” Hearn said on Sky Sports when asked about a date for Joshua-Fury. “It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia. I don’t mind giving that information, Bob Arum’s already done it.

Joshua avenging the only defeat of his professional career against Ruiz in Saudi Arabia attracted plenty of criticism from campaigners, who accused the Middle East country of trying to “sportswash” its human rights record. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/11/new-low-in-saudi-sports-washing-fifa-leader-stars-in-saudi-pr-video/

Responding to Hearn’s revelation that Joshua-Fury is on course to take place in Saudi Arabia, Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “It comes as no surprise that Saudi Arabia is once again set to use a major sporting event as a means to sportswash its atrocious human rights record.

“By staging this high-profile fight, Saudi Arabia is yet again trying to shift the media spotlight away from its jailing of peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul, its grisly state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its indiscriminate bombing of civilians in neighbouring Yemen

“Simply put – Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman wants people around the world to be talking about sport in Saudi Arabia, not the dissidents being locking up after sham trials or the people being tortured in Saudi jails.   

“When he fought in Saudi Arabia in 2019 it was disappointing that Anthony Joshua ducked the issue of human rights, and this time we hope he and his opponent can speak out in the build-up to the fight.

A few well-chosen words about human rights from Joshua and Fury would mean a lot to Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered human rights defenders, helping to counteract the intended sportswashing effect of this boxing match.”

https://www.bt.com/sport/news/2021/may/anthony-joshua-and-tyson-fury-clash-set-for-saudi-arabia-in-august-eddie-hearn

IOC moves on its human rights approach: more of a marathon than a sprint

December 3, 2020

Olympic Flag

On 2 December 2020 the International Olympic Committee reported that “Building on the work undertaken over the last few years to address human rights issues within the scope of its responsibility across its three spheres of influence, as well as recent recommendations made by experts, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made further progress on the development and implementation of its human rights approach. In its recent consultative meeting, the IOC Executive Board (EB) received an update on the ongoing work in this field.

The IOC’s work has been informed by a series of “Recommendations for an IOC Human Rights Strategy”, produced by the independent experts HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Rachel Davis, Vice President of Shift – a non-profit centre of expertise on business and human rights – commissioned by the IOC in 2019. They were developed following a consultative process with key internal staff and expert civil society stakeholders. Shift has been supporting the IOC since 2018 to develop the organisation’s existing human rights due diligence measures. [ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/ioc-continues-its-cautious-work-on-human-rights-and-takes-first-steps-on-a-strategy/]

We would like to thank Prince Zeid and Rachel Davis for their work and the report. The IOC remains committed not only to continuing, but also to strengthening its work concerning human rights within the scope of our responsibility,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

The IOC has already taken a number of steps to deliver on its human rights responsibilities in its own operations. It has increased the alignment of its existing strategies on sustainability and gender equality and inclusion with human rights standards; and it is working on its own procurement processes and the creation of a human rights unit in the organisation. Engagement with human rights expert groups has also increased.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/26/coalition-of-human-rights-defenders-and-others-call-on-olympic-committee-to-change-its-ways/]

Work has further progressed in relation to the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games, supporting organising committees in developing and implementing their human rights approaches. As part of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, human rights standards had already been reinforced in the “Operational Requirements” of the Host City Contract for the Olympic Games 2024 and beyond.

Setting out its role to advance respect for human rights as the leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC is also aiming to work closely with the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and International Federations (IFs). In its commitment to inclusion across the Olympic Movement, the IOC is working on a framework to ensure fairness, safety and non-discrimination of athletes on the basis of gender identity and sex characteristics; and it is planning to further advance its work around safe sport and implement the “Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration”.

The IOC will continue the work already under way.

Additional action will be taken in the short term to complete the development of an IOC human rights strategy and policy commitment, and an amendment to the Olympic Charter will be considered.

Further work will look, among other things, at further embedding human rights in the good governance principles, and the establishment of the previously announced Human Rights Advisory Committee.

https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-moves-forward-with-its-human-rights-approach

https://www.insidethegames.biz/index.php/articles/1101537/ioc-human-rights-development

Good read: Special Issue on the Olympic Movement through a human rights lens

November 22, 2020
The human rights of athletes : special issue / Galea, Natalie... [et al.] | Galea, Natalie

This edition of “Human rights defender” examines the Olympic Movement through a human rights lens. The magazine was planned to be released on time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which were postponed due to COVID-19. With athletes taking a more public stand as human rights defenders, the authors thought the issue was still timely:

Why athlete rights should be at the core of sport / Mary Harvey.
The heavy toll of achieving ‘sport for all’ in Afghanistan / Khalida Popal, interviewed by Natalie Galea.
Bahrain’s athletes rewarded with prison sentences / Fatima Yazbek.
Athletes first? The right to health and safety in postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games / Han Xiao.
A response from the International Olympic Committee.
Superhumans or sitting ducks? examining the gaps in elite athletes’ knowledge and understanding of their rights in sport / Yetsa A. Tuakli-Wosornu.
Embedding the human rights of athletes / Brendan Schwab.
Going beyond the ‘feel-good-factor’ to achieve equality in para-sport / Katie Kelly.
The human right of Olympic athletes to earn a living / Maximilian Klein.
The story in her own words / Annet Negesa.
In search of a safer playing field and gender justice in sport / Payoshni Mitra.
The unlevel global playing field of gender eligibility regulation in sport / Madeleine Pape.
A fist of freedom or a fist of iron? rule 50 and the Olympic paradox / Stanis Elsborg.
Sports activism, the gentle way / Sabrina Filzmoser, interviewed by Gabrielle Dunlevy.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/ioc-continues-its-cautious-work-on-human-rights-and-takes-first-steps-on-a-strategy/

https://library.olympic.org/doc/SYRACUSE/471451syracu

Human Rights Compliance test for football clubs

August 7, 2020

Saudi Arabia’s protracted effort to purchase Newcastle United finally came to an end last week © Getty Images

Amnesty International UK has called on the English Premier League to update its Owners’ and Directors’ test, and has sent a proposed updated test to the Premier League’s Chief Executive, Richard Masters. Criticising the current test as “hopelessly unsuited” to the task of ensuring proper scrutiny of the human rights records of those trying to buy into English football clubs, Amnesty has commissioned a new human rights-compliant test from corporate lawyers David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods of Erskine Chambers, together with a detailed legal analysis.

The Premier League has recently been supportive of Black Lives Matter solidarity protests from players and clubs, while Amnesty has also praised clubs – including many in the Premier League – for their part in the Football Welcomes project celebrating the contribution refugees make to the game.

Amnesty’s intervention comes as the highly controversial attempt by a consortium of buyers – including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – to purchase Newcastle United Football Club has thrown a spotlight on human rights issues surrounding the ownership of Premier League clubs.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/saudi-backed-investors-pull-out-of-newcastle-deal/] Amnesty’s legal analysis shows that the league’s current Owners’ and Directors’ test has numerous serious shortcomings. For example, the test bars someone on the sex offenders register from becoming an owner or director, but has no such prohibition for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes.

Amnesty’s analysis – “Proposed change to the Premier League Rules Owners’ and Directors’ test to address international human rights and discrimination” – points out that the phrase “human rights” does not even appear in the text of the test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards – article 3 of FIFA’s statutes says that the international football body is “committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights”.

Among other things, the new test from Amnesty calls for the Premier League Board to consider whether a prospective owner or director has been complicit in serious violations of international human rights law or any conduct that is at odds with the Premier League’s anti-discrimination policy.

Premier League must act on sportswashing

In April, Amnesty wrote to Richard Masters raising concerns about the Newcastle takeover, warning it was part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “sportswash” its human rights record – with investment in top-level sport used as a “rebranding” tool to deflect attention away from human rights issues. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership there has been a crackdown in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights defenders arrested – including prominent women’s rights activists – tortured and put on trial. In October 2018, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a killing which the UN has said was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials” of the Saudi state. (For more information on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, go here).

Amnesty warned that the Premier League risked “becoming a patsy” of Saudi sportswashing efforts unless it fully considered the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia as part of its scrutiny of the Newcastle deal – scrutiny its current Owners’ and Directors’ test failed to provide. After the collapse of the Saudi-Newcastle deal last week, Amnesty said the attempted purchase had been a “blatant attempt” at sportswashing, with the Saudi authorities attempting to “buy into the passion, prestige and pride of Tyneside football”.

Amnesty’s new letter to Mr Masters urges the Premier League boss to give “careful consideration” to the proposed improved test, and offers to set up a meeting between the Premier League, Amnesty and David Chivers QC to discuss the matter further.

Football Welcomes is an Amnesty UK initiative celebrating the contribution players from a refugee background make to the game, while highlighting the role football and football clubs play in creating welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum. Over the Football Welcomes weekend in April, clubs nationwide stage special matches or tournaments, offer free tickets to games, arrange stadium tours and player visits. In 2019, nearly 180 clubs took part, including more than half of Premier League clubs. The weekend also highlights the work many football club community trusts do during the year to welcome refugees. Through the Football Welcomes Community Project, Amnesty works closely with Leicester City in the Community, Aston Villa Foundation, Middlesbrough FC Foundation, Club Doncaster Foundation and Liverpool County FA/Liverpool FC on creating more welcoming communities.

IOC continues its cautious work on human rights and takes first steps on a strategy

March 4, 2020
Executive Board IOC
HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Rachel Davis, Vice-President of Shift – a leading non-profit centre of expertise on business and human rights – formally presented their joint “Recommendations for an IOC Human Rights Strategy” to IOC President Thomas Bach in February. IOC/Greg Martin
Recommendations for a strategic framework on human rights were commissioned by the IOC in March 2019 and developed over the course of a year, in which Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Rachel Davis, Vice-President of Shift, evaluated the IOC’s current approach, including through consultation with key internal staff and expert civil society stakeholders. A range of recommendations made in the confidential report by Prince Zeid and Rachel Davis will need to be consulted on internally, and will be further considered in the development of the new strategy. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/olympic-committee-tries-its-hands-on-human-rights-cautiously/.
Continuing – still cautiously !! – in March 2020 the IOC Executive Board, welcoming the overarching recommendation, confirmed its commitment to develop a comprehensive and cohesive human rights strategy for the IOC. As immediate next steps towards the implementation of this approach, the IOC EB has agreed to:
  • develop and adopt a detailed overarching strategy on human rights, encompassing the IOC’s human rights responsibilities in its own operations (including the activities of the IOC administration as well as the IOC’s role as organiser of the Olympic Games), and setting out its role to advance respect for human rights as the leader of the Olympic Movement, in cooperation with the National Olympic Committees and the International Federations;
  • establish a Human Rights Unit with expert leadership to elaborate and drive the detailed strategy in practice, in close collaboration with key departments that will be essential to delivering on the IOC’s commitment;
  • continue to strengthen human rights due diligence, the use of leverage and engagement with affected stakeholders in existing areas of work, including the IOC’s efforts on the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport, engagement with Olympic Games and Youth Olympic Games Organising Committees on human rights impacts, and in the IOC’s own procurement; and
  • establish the previously announced IOC Human Rights Advisory Committee once the human rights strategy – as the basis for its work – is further elaborated and internal resources and cross-functional structures are in place to make the IOC’s human rights commitment fully operational.

Shift has provided advisory support to the IOC on human rights since early 2018, and will continue to provide operational support and expertise during the transition to the IOC’s new internal human rights capacities.

https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-continues-working-on-human-rights-and-takes-first-steps-on-a-strategy

https://www.insidethegames.biz/index.php/articles/1091429/ioc-delay-human-rights-committee

Dakar Rally: sports washing par excellence

January 15, 2020
AlKhaleej Today on 14 January 2020 carries an interesting post by Anthony Harwood, a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, entitled: Dakar Rally opens dark new chapter in Saudi sportswashing“. Here some long excerpts listing some of the many sports events which Saudi Arabia has been buying, but with the main focus on the Dakar Rally. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/].

..But regrettable also that the organisers of the race, France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have chosen not to say or do anything which might upset the host country, Saudi Arabia, and spark headlines around the world.  There was once a time when campaigners would call on sportsmen and women to boycott Riyadh when asked to play there, much as happened when “rebel tours” of South Africa were announced during the apartheid era. But that changed when the desert kingdom began offering huge sums of money that footballers, wrestlers, tennis players, snooker players and golfers were finding hard to turn down. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International realised that calling for a boycott was never going to work when the lure of the Saudi riyal was so great and promoters could point to how companies like House of Fraser, Gucci, Chanel and Starbucks are already trading in Saudi Arabia, so what’s all the fuss?  Instead, campaign groups asked that anyone who went to Riyadh spoke out while they were there about the country’s appalling human rights abuses….

As Ines Osman, director of the MENA Rights Group, said: “These activists, and countless others, have paid the price of their freedom for the state’s ‘social change’ narrative. Competitors and sports fans must speak up, as silence allows Riyadh’s soft power tactics to wash away human rights abuses, shutting down the voices of Saudi human rights defenders.” 

The term ‘sportswashing’ has entered the lexicon as a way to describe how countries such as Saudi Arabia use sport to wash away the stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.  To do this they lure sports stars and celebrities to their country with huge sums of money; only on Friday the manager of Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde, admitted that the only reason the Spanish Super Cup was being hosted in Riyadh was because of the money on offer.  Likewise, the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, got $86m to agree to last month’s world heavyweight title fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia. 

..In November the Dakar director, David Castera, claimed there had been hesitation before choosing Saudi Arabia for the rally, but didn’t elaborate on what the “many guarantees” were which had held things up.  He also noted that Dakar was not the first sporting event to be held in Saudi, which of course is true, and is why the Saudis continue to spend a fortune attracting high-profile competitors: so it becomes normalised. 

The Saudi authorities have said they hope broadcasts of the race – showing the country’s beautiful expanses of desert, mountains and coastline – will provide a boost to its tourist industry. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, said accusations of sportswashing are wrong because his country was always criticised for “not opening up to the world”. What a crass thing to say. By opening up, we don’t mean gawping at the Saudi desert.  By opening up we mean having a transparent judicial system where a trial which allows the organisers of Khashoggi’s murder to escape punishment can be scrutinised.  By opening up we mean allowing a cross-party group of British members of parliament access to women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, as well as their guards, following claims they have been tortured and sexually assaulted while in jail.  By opening up we mean allowing an examination of how the Saudi-led coalition have carried out unlawful attacks in Yemen, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and child recruitment. 

It’s sad that not one of those drivers from 62 nations had so much as a pink armband between them when they set off from Jeddah on 5 January on what the Saudi media proudly call ‘Chapter 3’ in the race’s history.  If they don’t find their voices by the time they reach Riyadh on Friday – and I’m not holding my breath – the start of a five year contract to hold the race in Saudi Arabia will actually mark the most shameful stretch of the Dakar Rally’s history. 

For more of my posts on sports washing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

https://alkhaleejtoday.co/saudi-arabia/21704/Dakar-Rally-opens-dark-new-chapter-in-Saudi-sportswashing.html

Dakar Rally starts on 5 January in Jeddah but HRDs in jail

January 4, 2020