Hosted by the Centre for Culture, Sport & Events at UWS, Foregrounding a Rights-Based Agenda for Sport Events: Insights from Research and Practice, took place virtually on 20th June 2022. Colleagues from a variety of leading institutions gathered to discuss a number of questions arising from the rights agenda in mega sport events from a variety of research, governance, organisational and policy perspectives. This symposium was organised as part of the EU-funded EventRights project which includes a number of academic institutions from Europe, and further afield.

Over 100 people joined the online symposium where a stellar cast of speakers shared insights into the implications of mega sport events for a range of stakeholders/groups including athletes’ rights, disability rights and for human trafficking and sex work. The day’s fascinating discussions were underpinned by the symposium’s keynote speaker – Dr Daniela Heerdt – whose address focused on the legal responsibilities of mega sport events through a human rights lens.

Dr Heerdt’s talk was followed by four panels focusing in on specific rights-based issues pertaining to mega sport events. First, was a panel on Sports Events, Governance and Advocacy which was chaired by Dr Jason Bocarro, North Carolina State University. The panel was made up of Liz Twyford from UNICEF UK, Dr Andreas Graf from FIFA, Sylvia Schenk, Herbert Smith Freehills and Prof David McGillivray from CCSE/UWS. This panel discussed the current state of play with respect to human rights being enshrined in the governance arrangements for mega sport event and the role of advocacy organisations in lobbying for change within the mega sport event landscape.

The second panel of the day was focused on Sports Events and Athlete Rights, exploring the history and contemporary context of this debate. The session was chaired by Prof David McGillivray of CCSE/UWS and included Kaveh Mehrabi from the IOC Athletes’ Department, Dr Yannick Kluch from Virginia Commonwealth University, Prof Laura Misener from Western University and Prof Joerg Koenigstorfer from Technical University, Munich. The discussion emphasised the progress that has been made in having athlete voices heard in the planning and delivery of mega sport events. However, it was also made clear that athletes are considered a homogenised group, when there is significant diversity in those competing in mega sport events that needs to be recognised and valued. Greater awareness of intersectional issues is required if the diversity of athletes’ perspectives is to be included more effectively.

The third panel of the day took as its focus Sport Events and Disability Rights. Chaired by Prof Laura Misener, Western University, it included contributions from CCSE’s own Prof Gayle McPherson, University of the West of Scotland, Miki Matheson, former Paralympian, and Dr Ian Brittain from Coventry University. This panel considered the extent to which major and mega parasport events have impacted on the rights of people with a disability in the wider society. There was a general recognition that these events do shine a light on the rights of people with a disability, but this is not enough to bring about sustained social change. Major sport events are one part of the solution, but they must be accompanied by political, economic, social and cultural change in other policy areas if people with a disability are to have their rights strengthened.

The final panel session of the day was focused on Sport Events, Human Trafficking and Sex Work. Chaired by Prof Joerg Koenigstofer from Technical University Munich, it had contributions from Dr Amanda De Lisio from York University, Philippa King, the Director of It’s a Penalty and Dr Mike Duignan from University of Surrey. In this session, there was discussion over definitional dilemmas and the absence of robust evidence as to the incidence of trafficking and sexual exploitation exacerbated by mega sport events. It was acknowledged that exploitative practices exist outside of the mega event lifecycle, but event owners, state bodies and other influential actors could do more to minimise potential harms.

The day served to highlight some of the work that has been done to address the human rights infringements that mega sport events both create and exacerbate. It also emphasised some of the opportunities created when large sports events ‘come to town’. Academic and grey literature on mega sport events and human rights is increasing and this symposium simply reinforced the need for academics, events owners, NGOs and affected groups to work collaboratively to address such complex issues. CCSE colleagues announced that they are editing a Research Topic with Frontiers that people can submit articles to.