We care about sports. Here is why:

Rarely does a topic engage people in such a passionate way as sports. International sporting competitions are among the most anticipated and keenly followed events in the world. Even away from the spotlights, sports can play a significant role in the day-to-day life of anyone who follows, plays or competes in one way or another. Sports move the hearts and minds of millions.

Yet, sports can also negatively impact peoples’ lives. We’ve all heard dreadful stories of workers suffering inhumane conditions and even risking their lives as they rush to meet the deadline to inaugurate a stadium. We’ve learned that vulnerable young athletes can be subject to harassment and abuse in training for the sport they love. We’ve seen women banned from stadiums and athletes barred from competitions based solely on their gender identity. And we’ve witnessed how impunity can prevail when journalists and human rights defenders can be censored, arbitrarily detained or more severely harmed for bringing attention to these issues. 

Sports are exceptionally powerful drivers of change. It is precisely because of that unique influence, and that intrinsic faith that so many of us place in them, that we need global sports organizations to recognize their inherent responsibility to respect human dignity everywhere they operate.

At Shift, we decided to invest in building expertise in sports and human rights precisely because of that duality: on the one hand, because we understand the significant impacts that the sector can have on people’s lives and on the other hand, because we know that there is immense opportunity (and responsibility) in leveraging the passion, excitement and size of this multi-billion-dollar industry to ensure that human dignity is duly respected.

“Whether it is with global sports bodies, sponsors or agents of change in civil society, we are committed to playing an objective, critical and transformative role in embedding respect for human rights in sports governance.”

Rachel Davis Vice President of Shift

Our Experience

At Shift, our sports and human rights work has focused on strategic advice to global sports governing bodies – including FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – on meeting their responsibility to respect human rights.

We believe that, as standard-setters, global sports bodies have the responsibility and the influence to help drive change across their sector. We also collaborate with key stakeholders, such as international NGOs, organizations advocating for athletes rights and trade unions. In recent years, we’ve also seen increasing interest from global companies wishing to better understand how the events, teams or athletes that they sponsor could connect them to human rights risks and impact and what to do about it.


The International Olympic Committee (IOC)

In 2018, Shift began providing support to the International Olympic Committee on a range of topics related to the organization’s responsibility to respect human rights within its own Administration, as the owner and organizer of the Olympic Games, and as the steward of the Olympic Movement.

In March 2019, the President of the IOC asked Shift Vice President Rachel Davis and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to provide expert recommendations on the core content of a strategic framework on human rights. The joint recommendations were presented to President Bach in February 2020 and the IOC announced initial steps to implement them in early March 2020. In October 2020, the IOC released their full report. A summary of the recommendations may be found here.

Since 2020, Shift’s support to the IOC has focused on advising the organization on the development and implementation of its first ever Human Rights Strategic Framework to meet its human rights responsibilities.

From 2019 to 2021, Shift supported the IOC in its process to update its position on eligibility criteria for gender-based competitive sport. Shift’s role included: the design and facilitation of internal and external stakeholder consultations, including with affected athletes; expert guidance on the rights of transgender and intersex people; and support in developing the Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, which was adopted in November 2021. To read Shift’s statement on the Framework, see here.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)

  • In 2015, Shift supported Professor John Ruggie in authoring the report “For the game. For the world“, which applied the expectations of the UN Guiding Principles to the operations of FIFA.
  • The report was published in partnership with the Corporate Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School.
  • Following the report, FIFA adopted a human rights policy and due diligence processes and established the FIFA Human Rights Advisory Board in 2017.
  • The Advisory Board operated from 2017 to 2021. It was chaired by Shift Vice President Rachel Davis and served as an independent body composed of international experts with the mission to help strengthen FIFA’s efforts to ensure respect for human rights.
  • The Board published regular reports containing its recommendations to FIFA and tracks the organization’s progress against them, which you may find here.

“We need these organizations to succeed in meeting their responsibility to respect human rights because then that sets a real precedent for other sports bodies. Of course, whether they get it right matters most immediately to the people directly affected by what FIFA and the IOC do, but it also matters to people affected more broadly in the Olympic Movement. And that’s why Shift is committed to engaging with global sports bodies to see the UN Guiding Principles put into practice.”

Rachel Davis | Vice President of Shift

Féderation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)

  • In October 2020, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body of world motorsport, asked Rachel Davis, Vice President of Shift and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide expert advice on human rights to the FIA.
  • Through this agreement, Rachel Davis and Anna Triponel from Shift, together with Prince Zeid provided support to the FIA in developing strategic frameworks on diversity and inclusion and human rights and made recommendations to the President of the FIA on creating a more diverse and inclusive culture across motorsport and mobility; an advised the organization’s broader approach to managing human rights risks in line with international human rights standards.
  • The process included consultation with stakeholders on how the FIA can strengthen its efforts, building on its existing work to ensure motorsport and mobility are safe, sustainable and accessible, particularly through the FIA’s Purpose Driven movement.
  • In December 2021, the final report was presented to the FIA’s World Councils and welcomed by the FIA’s outgoing President, Jean Todt.

World Athletics

  • In July 2020, the World Athletics’ Council appointed a Human Rights Working Group. The Working Group was tasked with developing a human rights framework for the organization and making any recommendations to further implement human rights at World Athletics.
  • The eight member Working Group was supported in its analysis by the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and Rachel Davis of Shift on relevant human rights standards and their implications for World Athletics’ operations.
  • In July 2021, the Working Group presented its report to the WA Council and in November, the WA Congress approved the WG’s final report and released the report’s Executive Summary publicly.
  • This includes an independent comment by the Centre and Shift which is also available here.

Learn more

To learn more about how we work with sports bodies, civil society organizations, sponsors and other key agents of change in the world of sports, please contact us.

Our latest statements may be found in the News and Views section of this website. You can also read our latest publications on the topic in our Library of Resources, using the filter ‘Sports’ under Thematic Expertise.