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Promoting human rights in sport and building a more inclusive and safer sport environment


At the 16th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for sport (November 2020-February 2021), EPAS adopted two resolutions, the first pertaining to the revision of the European Sports Charter, which is envisaged to be adopted by the Committee of Ministers by end 2021, and the second one with a focus on “human rights in sport”.

Francine HETHERINGTON-RAVENEY, Deputy Executive Secretary to EPAS, Council of Europe


Both resolutions stressed the role that the Council of Europe and its Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) had to play in protecting human rights in sport including by: “promoting and monitoring progress towards gender equality, notably by promoting gender mainstreaming in sport and following up the data collected through the “ALL IN” project which show the need to make progress in a number of key areas.”

Gender equality was also one of the areas presented and analysed earlier this year at the EPAS Forum on Sport and Human Rights, which took place on 1 June. As a result of this forum and the renewed commitment expressed through the Conference of Ministers, it was agreed that EPAS should use and enhance the indicators on gender equality developed by the ALL IN joint project. These indicators were in the areas of: leadership; coaching; participation (from grassroots to elite sport); genderbased violence; communication/media policies; and programmes addressing gender equality. 18 countries were involved in the data collection exercise and a study was produced as a result. The “ALL IN” project also provided best practice guidelines and videos of good initiatives taking place to promote gender equality across Europe.

For the second “ALL IN” initiative – envisaged to take place from mid-2022 onwards – the aim would be to reach out to more EPAS member states as part of the data collection and to further develop certain areas of the project, in particular the media angle and indicators, as the lack of female journalists and the type of reporting on women in sport – which tends to be stereotypical – deserves further investigation in order to ensure that images and representation do not diminish women and girls. As with the Geena Davis Institute campaign “If she can see it, she can be it”, by encouraging fair and inclusive reporting in sport on female athletes and sports personalities, young girls around the world can aspire to follow in their footsteps one day.

One way of ensuring that women can access the sports professions – especially management roles – is to promote greater equality and inclusivity using the tool of unconscious bias training. This type of workshop allows people across the different sporting communities to be confronted with their own biases which they often do not even realise they have. EPAS has commissioned an academic and researcher, Dr Jane Dennehy, to develop an unconscious bias training module for sports professionals and EPAS is looking forward to seeing this module being rolled out over the course of 2022 in different fora.


Inclusion and sport – EPAS Diversity Conference 2021

Promoting diversity has been a permanent priority of EPAS since it was set up in 2007 and this principle is an important value and a backbone to all the work of the Council of Europe. The rights and freedoms of all citizens of the member states of the Council of Europe, together with the prohibition of discrimination, are anchored in the European Convention on Human Rights, on which the normative framework of the Council of Europe in the field of sport is based. Via projects and events, EPAS has already addressed topical issues in sport related to gender as mentioned above, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, sexual orientation, migration, prisons and many others.


At the biannual EPAS Diversity Conference 2021 held on 20 September, the focus was firmly on inclusion and the protection of human rights of athletes. The conference focus was “The promotion and protection of the human rights of intersex and transgender athletes” and this hybrid event brought together the French Minister responsible for Sport, Roxana Maracineanu, high-level Council of Europe representatives, human rights experts, academics, scientists, representatives from sport federations including the IOC, and organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the World Players Association, to name but a few. EPAS also put the focus firmly on the rights of the athletes themselves and we were honoured to have amongst us the Ugandan athlete Annet Negesa, who shared her difficult story with journalist Olga Sviridenko and Dr Payoshni Mitra; Natalie Washington, a transgender woman and campaigner for trans rights, and Chris Mosier, a trail-blazing athlete, coach, and founder of TransAthlete.com.

Two representatives of bodies belonging to the EPAS Consultative Committee – the EGLSF (European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation) and EUSA (European University Sport Association) – took part in, and helped to shape, the conference. Members of the press were also invited to follow and attend a subsequent press conference, to ensure that the findings and conference recommendations could be shared widely, and several articles appeared as a result in the European press.

During the conference, one of the key points made by Chris Mosier was that sport can be a “hostile place for non binary and transgender people” and that “the policing of women’s bodies from the Global South in sport was more extensive than for white women”. Dr Carole Oglesby, representing WomenSport International, said that “there should be no exclusion [of women and girls in sport] given our current knowledge.” Dr Richard Budgett OBE referred to upcoming guidelines from the IOC, which were based on a wide stock-taking exercise involving consultations with an extensive range of stakeholders. He mentioned that they would be inclusive and take into account the human rights angle, but would provide broad brushstrokes rather than detailed advice. Kyle Knight from Human Rights Watch also mentioned the latest HRW study in this field, which refers to the “impossible choices” some athletes face when trying to compete in elite sports and provided some ideas for athletes facing inclusion barriers.

The diversity conference led to recommendations being presented by EPAS Executive Secretary, Mr Stanislas Frossard. These recommendations, as well as the full recording of the conference, the portraits of a number of athletes, including intersex and transgender ones, and the presentations from the speakers are available on COE website. EPAS will continue to work and report on its work in ensuring inclusion and diversity in sport and I look forward to providing more updates in ensuing editions.

Sport et citoyenneté