Athletes who are ‘human rights defenders’ need protection: UN

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Athletes who speak out for equality or denounce abuses in their sport often do so at great personal risk and must be given the same protection as all other defenders of human rights, the UN human rights chief said on Monday.

“When athletes use their voice to promote equality in sport, they are human rights defenders,” said Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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“They often speak out at great risk to themselves and to their careers, in a context that has not always been open to criticism from the inside. Because - as in other areas - power dynamics are still very much at play in the sporting world, and more is needed to dismantle them.”

Turk, who did not name any athletes, said those who use their voice to address issues in their sport or in society should be protected and given “avenues to speak out and seek redress, safely and without fear of reprisals.”

Turk was speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on a panel alongside Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on human rights and the Olympics ahead of the Paris Summer Games.

Paris will host the Olympics from July 26 to Aug. 11, and the Paralympic Games from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8.

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