Human rights may initially appear to be a topic unrelated to football. However, the assumption of social responsibility has long been an important principle of action, which must be further underlined by an approach specifically to respect for human rights. Sport is a pastime that many people do not want to associate with serious reflection. Sports associations have made excellent use of this largely positive image and have pursued their interests wisely and aggressively.
In a recent case, the Control Committee of the German Football Association (DFB) will fortunately not initiate proceedings against Bundesliga players Achraf Hakimi, Jadon Sancho (both Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (FC Schalke 04) and Marcus Thuram (Borussia Mönchengladbach) for their solidarity and anti-racism statements in the case of the US-American George Floyd. The committee intends to maintain this line of action in the event of renewed anti-racism actions following the violent death of George Floyd on the upcoming match days.
German professional sport – like large parts of the private sector – is still in the early stages of turning to its human rights responsibilities: the discussion of the first sports organisations about their human rights duty of care is a fundamental step in a process of implementation that is only just beginning. In the near future, a significant increase in consideration of human rights requirements can be expected in the economic sector of sport. This would correspond both to the existing (inter)national policy discourse and the expected legal development in Germany and Europe.
For example, in its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights that was published in 2016, the German Federal Government calls upon all companies – regardless of size and industry – to respect human rights, to avoid negative impacts on human rights and, if necessary, to make amends. However, there are no sanctions for companies that fail to comply with the Action Plan – the plan is not a law and is not legally enforceable. It is precisely this gap that a future law on sustainable value chains is intended to close.
In 2017, FIFA has published a human rights policy in which it commits itself to respect of human rights [although a declaration cannot be equated with a strict observance of human rights]. In the same year, UEFA announced that it wanted to make human rights a decisive criterion in the selection of hosts for its tournaments. In September 2019, the DFB officially declared its commitment to respect all internationally recognised human rights by including a clause to this effect in Article 2 of its statutes. DFB General Secretary Dr. Friedrich Curtius said:
„The commitment to internationally recognised human rights in the DFB statutes is intended to build on the DFB’s many and varied socio-political commitments to date and to document and emphasise the DFB’s human rights responsibility and duty of care. The amendment to the statutes is much more than just lip service, we see it as a written declaration of our obligation to stand up for the values of football at all times and in all places.”
With or without a legal obligation: companies are well advised to introduce procedures to ensure that human rights due diligence is observed. Customers (fans), investors, politicians, workers and civil society expect companies (sports organisations) to take responsibility for human rights compliance in their supply chain. Anyone who uses counter-arguments such as „Germany’s special position in a globalised world“, „legal regulations slow down voluntary commitment“ or „we cannot influence suppliers‘ compliance with human rights“ in order to avoid taking action has not heard the shot!
The author holds a M.Sc. in sports management from the University of Bordeaux. He critically analyses and questions the power of sport and its impact
on the economical, ecological and social environment.