2022 National Sport Integrity Forum
SPORT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: To boycott or not to boycott, is that the question?
On May 26, 2022, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and Victoria University delivered the 7th National Sport Integrity Forum. The forum commenced with an official welcome from newly appointed Australian Sports Commission Chief Executive Officer, Kieren Perkins OAM and Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chair and Legend, John Bertrand AO. Together they welcomed over 240 attendees to the livestream. Attendees included representatives from sporting bodies, athletes, coaches, government officials, sports administrators and media from across the globe.
This year’s forum focused on the complex issue of human rights in sport. The title of the Forum: “To boycott or not to boycott, is that the question?” foreshadowed the lively, engaged, passionate and deep discussion that panel members Sir Peter Cosgrove, Dr Shane Gould, Prof Stan Grant and Prof Ramon Spaaij engaged in. Facilitated by Prof Hans Westerbeek, it quickly became clear that boycotting sport events is not the (only) platform to focus attention on human rights violations.
Sir Peter Cosgrove acknowledged the platform of boycotting sport events but quickly raised the issue that sport as soft diplomacy mainly hurts those who perform on the sporting stage. Banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon in that regard, he argued ‘was a dumb decision’. Dr Shane Gould contended that not athletes but national governments should exercise their power to pressure the relevant sporting bodies.
Prof Stan Grant really opened up the debate to the core of the issue, questioning the very concept of what human rights are and who can access them. Rights, he pointed out, ‘are reflections of those in power to formulate and enforce them, and only those with sufficient resources can make rights work for them.’ This then puts the onus back on all of those working in sport and beyond, to question themselves and their organisations about what access to ‘rights’ their members, stakeholders and citizens really have. How can (and will) those responsible for organisational progress enforce, protect and facilitate human rights, particularly when they are challenged in light of economic and political power decisions?
History has shown that the latter trumps the former and we are living in times where mistakes of the past are openly and overtly repeated. In many ways Australia is a microcosm of the global sporting world in that Australia continues to invest in bringing elite sporting events to its shores, and in the process prioritises economic and identity politics over, for example, equal and universal access to sporting opportunities. At all those levels, local, national and international, the human rights issue in sport is a Pandora’s box, where making moral judgements about who is in and who is out merely leads to a range of more complex questions and issues.
The panel agreed that sport does remain a platform with the ability to act as a healing agent, where people come together to engage in friendly competition. To that end, boycotts should be, as expressed by Sir Peter Cosgrove, “the last card in the deck”.
Re-watch the Forum below.
Sir Peter Cosgrove
Sir Peter Cosgrove served as the 26th Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. He was Knighted at his swearing in 2014 and following his retirement in 2019 Sir Peter was further honoured as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by Her Majesty the Queen. In retirement he is actively involved with defence, health and other charitable organisations including serving as chairman of BizRebuild, the Business Council of Australia’s Community Rebuilding Initiative following the 2019/20 bushfires and more recent floods. Sir Peter is also an avid sports fan with a particular interest in Rugby and Cricket.
Dr Shane Gould AM MBE
Dr Shane Gould PhD obtained her Doctor of Philosophy at Victoria University in 2019, studying the culture of swimming in Australia. During her research she identified that athletes representing Australia on national teams are expected to be de-facto ambassadors, a political diplomatic role – but without training. Sport and politics are supposedly separate, however Shane takes the school of thought proposed by Jonathon Grix, 2016 of ‘Sport Politics’, where sport is political and always has been. While Shane does not have direct experience of sport boycotts, she was a competing athlete at the infamous Munich Olympics in 1972. Shane brings her academic perspectives, with her life-long experience as an elite athlete ‘role model’ and her cultural knowledge, to the discussion about sporting boycotts and increasing politicisation of sport.
Prof. Stan Grant
Professor Stan Grant is one of Australia’s most respected and awarded journalist, with experience across radio, television, and print covering world news and international affairs. With a strong reputation for independence and integrity, one of his most significant positions was as a Senior International Correspondent for CNN covering the rise of China and numerous wars in the Middle East.
In 2021, Professor Stan Grant was appointed as the Vice Chancellor’s Chair of Australian-Indigenous Belonging at Charles Sturt University. He is also Industry Professor at UTS Business School. He is a Wiradjuri man.
John Bertrand AO – Official Welcome
Prof. Ramón Spaaij – Introduction
Prof. Hans Westerbeek – Facilitator