Former Athlete, Human Rights Activist, AUSTRALIA

Craig Foster is one of Australia’s most respected former athletes with an award-winning career in broadcasting, athlete activism, social justice and human rights. As Australia’s 40th National Football Team Captain, Craig’s broadcast career spans five male and female FIFA World Cups with three national broadcast awards: Olympic Games and European, South American and domestic professional football competitions.

An author and columnist, Craig developed the successful ‘Harmony Game’ with the Department of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Australian Government and Special Broadcasting Service, Australia’s multicultural broadcaster to further cooperation, understanding and acceptance of diversity among school children throughout Australia.

A Life Member, former CEO & Chairman of Professional Footballers Australia, the exclusive representative body of Australia’s professional players, he is a leading proponent of human rights as a Refugee Ambassador with Amnesty Australia, Australia Committee member of Human Rights Watch, Advisory Council of the Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales (UNSW) and advocates strongly for sport to fulfill its social responsibility to create a better world.

Craig led a successful global campaign across a broad range of Governments, NGO’s, human rights organisations, sporting bodies and athletes in early 2019 to free a young Bahraini refugee and footballer, Hakeem al-Araibi from a Thai prison.

Event Title: Protection of Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights                Date: September 25, 2019


We will briefly explore 4 areas:

– the importance of human rights in sport, and the challenges of implementation and enforcement;
– the global movement in sport towards gender equality and economic parity and challenging the prevailing arguments in this regard;
– the rise of racism in football;
– the extremely concerning, projected growth in displaced people through climate

migration and international sport’s social responsibility to its member nations in this regard.


In recent years, following a number of human rights crises particularly pertaining to Mega Sporting Events (MSE’s), a number of global sporting bodies have implemented human rights policies that obligate all official bodies to audit their human rights impacts and adhere to the ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and

Human Rights. FIFA, the global football governing body should be congratulated for being at the forefront of this change.

This is a growing trend that is of extraordinary social importance to the world as, the traditional call from sport to be independent of the impacts it creates, are no longer relevant.

The potential for positive social change is immense and, this room can anticipate with considerable hope the impact that applying all internationally recognised human rights standards in the International Bill of Human Rights including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work will have on the universality of rights when we consider the scale and social license of sport.

Sport has become the 21st century, universal vehicle for universal rights and, whereas the United Nations can urge, collaborate and perhaps coerce, to ‘push’, sport is one of the greatest ‘pull’ factors ever known to humankind and can impose, obligate and educate to a common, human standard.

However, as the world wakes to these obligations, and becomes increasingly aware of their rights, it is critical that sport upholds its duty. It cannot become hostage to political compromise and as we look ahead to social progress through sport and rights, we must acknowledge that failure to uphold these obligations has real human impact.


The willingness of FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Member State Federations to abide by the FIFA’s Human Rights Policy of 2017 was put to the test late last year with the detention in Thailand and attempted extradition of Mr Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini, refugee football on a protection Visa in Australia’s care, back to Bahrain contrary to Mr al-Araibi’s internationally recognised human right against refoulement as a refugee.

Despite his case being a clear contravention, and his position as a registered footballer for Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne, Australia, a global campaign was required to impress on FIFA the importance of using their ‘apply effective leverage’ with all relevant stakeholders, including the Governments of both Thailand and Bahrain, under Article 4 of the Policy.

Were it not for this extraordinary outpouring of support from the global football community, outraged at the flagrant breach of Hakeem’s rights and the complete failure of the AFC to act, only issuing a public statement after more than 60 days on incarceration and in the context of the purported recusal by the AFC President from the matter, his hopes would likely have been forlorn.

We can acknowledge the immense power of sport in this case to enforce the rights of one young man, in part because the common international language of football cuts through to fans and supporters everywhere.

Sport gave Hakeem a more ‘human face’ than the tens of millions of other refugees around the world, and in this we see both its true power and the persistent challenge to humanise a section of humankind when governments everywhere are increasingly seeking to do the contrary.


But the failure of football to actively promote his rights could have been fatal.

We know this because, in a different context, we sadly witnessed a tragedy just weeks ago when FIFA refused to apply the express sanction of suspension or expulsion to their member nation, Iran for an ongoing gender equality violation in Article 3 and 4 of the FIFA Statutes12 and Article 5 of the FIFA Human Rights Policy.

Despite the implementation of Article 3 in 2016 and that Article 4 has been in place since 2004 which expressly state the gravity of discrimination on the grounds of gender, which can no longer be countenanced in global sport, no sanctions have been imposed and the world watched a female fan, Sahar Khodoyari, arrested and facing a lengthy jail sentence for her attempts to enter the Azadi Stadium in Tehran to watch a male football match, self- immolate and perish. This is despite the recommendation of the FIFA Human Rights Advisory Board of November, 2018 that a timeline to sanctions be immediately applied.

This is a regrettable, avoidable and salutary tragedy that stains the very notion of sport.


Iran should be suspended from international competition until such time as women are provided with their rights accorded to all through football. To watch the sport, they love.

Having the power, and authority to greatly further the economic and social rights of women through sport is of great importance as sport is arguably a human right and not only to participate but to spectate and celebrate, but this power is useless if politics impede its application. And the consequences can be devastating.

Further, the women of Iran will note with interest that the International Judo Federation suspended Iran on 18 of this month of September for violation of its Code of Ethics and the Olympic Charter regarding non-discrimination on grounds of race, origin or nationality.

Sport has taken valuable, exciting new steps towards a world which is fairer, safer and more equal than ever before and should be congratulated for so doing, but the final step is proving the most difficult, certainly for our largest sport, association football.

To hold to its commitment.


This problem is more acute because of the complete failure in global football for the electoral eligibility criteria of FIFA Code of Ethics to account for either inaction or even complicity in human rights abuse such as, for example the President of Iranian football, Mehdi Taj, who was elected in April as a Vice President of the AFC amid the failure of his governing body to protect Sahar and her colleagues.

Or the Secretary-General of the Afghanistan Football Federation, Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada, elected to the Executive Committee of the AFC even though at that time suspended by the Afghan Attorney General’s office for alleged sexual abuse of women national team players.

The athletes, and players of the world must take responsibility for upholding the highest standards of governance of their sport including ensuring the efficacy, robustness and legitimacy of ethics chambers and fully independent oversight mechanisms because failures at governance level don’t only have economic consequences, they come at a human cost.

Sport governance is critical to providing the framework and environment in which the rights of others in, and through sport can be respected and FIFPro,  the global footballer’s body has been too silent during recent AFC and FIFA elections in which consideration of the human rights of players were a nullity.



Women’s equality and economic and social rights are rightly on the global agenda at present and, again, football is undergoing positive change through the exertion of their rights by leading players, and teams.

While the marvellous US Women’s National Team prosecute their economic rights against the US domestic governing body, the Australian National Women’s Team, the Matildas, Australia’s most loved representative team, are doing likewise on a global scale.

And women everywhere should be in full support as the visibility of sport gives a social uplift to women raising their voice for equal treatment whether in the boardroom, the university, the workplace, home or any other area of social life.

The Australians, through their domestic player Union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) are challenging the lack of adherence to the FIFA gender equality statutes regarding FIFA World Cup prizemoney distribution. And the Jamaican women’s football team, earlier this month instituted a strike in protest at a failure of the Jamaican Football Federation to honor their contractual payments.

Sport does not exist only for economic reasons, and thus the proposition that women’s football, or sport must ‘pay its own way’ and be given only what it returns in kind, is fallacious where a global governing body is concerned. Sport is a social vehicle in which all have a right to participate, in an equal manner and without discrimination of any kind.

FIFA, and other major governing bodies have a social responsibility to provide equal opportunity and rewards, to both female and male and, notwithstanding that women’s sport is growing exponentially in line with greater investment, women have a right to equality. Now. And the Australians will ensure that the women’s rights agenda, whether economic and the attendant social and cultural freedom this provides, will continue apace.

All male players around the world should be in full, vocal support for their sisters and certainly women’s teams everywhere should be considering unified action to press their claim.

It is also time for FIFA to fully commit to equality in decision making at governance level consistent with Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ to become a glowing example to the world of the important sporting principle of equality between women and men. Currently, just one FIFA should commit to a gender equal balance at Federation, Confederation and thus global level and demonstrate strong leadership in showing the world that women are of equal stature, importance and value.

And female players everywhere should consider this a strategic priority, and worth fighting for on behalf of women everywhere.


Recently, we have seen the rise of deeply concerning elements of nationalism and racially discriminatory treatment across the world, and the community of nations must escalate its response to ensure that no person is treated differently on the basis of any factor of difference, colour being just one, though historically one of the most prevalent and damaging.

In football, racist abuse of black players, in particular, has occurred worryingly regularly in recent years including cases involving players in England, Montenegro and Italy and at the very highest levels of the game.

If these are allowed to go unpunished, the effects throughout society are detrimental to a world of unity, understanding and inclusion.

As yet, FIFA, UEFA and the Italian Football Federation (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, FIGC), in particular have not applied sufficient sanctions to deter this type of behaviour in stadiums and this should be a particular focus for the world of sport in the immediate term.

I am pleased to see FIFA President, Gianni Infantino make strong statements in the past days regarding sanctions for offending clubs in Italy, however this is long overdue and further, where a Member Federation, or country, is unable to act in an effective manner, it is critical that FIFA has recourse as custodians of the game.

Sport has a central role, and responsibility to society to demonstrate that all involved, whether players, fans, officials adhere to a non-discriminatory code of conduct to demonstrate a powerful example of unity to the world during a time of growing division and rejection of difference.


Finally, as an Ambassador for Refugees with Amnesty Australia and a strong advocate for adherence to international human rights law regarding asylum seekers, including in my own country of Australia in which we face ongoing compliance challenges, I would like to impress on all global sports, whether FIFA, the IOC, FIBA, the Commonwealth Games and others that the number of displaced people is rapidly increasing and simultaneously our humane treatment of people seeking refuge is under extreme threat in many regions of the world.

According to the UN, the projected displacement of human beings from climate related change and extreme events and disasters is projected to increase dramatically in coming decades, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), by around 143 million people by 2050, aside from the more than 17 million in 2018 alone and, in light of the severe issues faced by our fellow human beings in this situation, this is something that I am personally very concerned about.

The economic, social and cultural rights of all involved are severely threatened, including the right of all children to an education, the right to health and an adequate standard of living (under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)) which too often is limited or missing altogether in the camps that house many hundreds of thousands, and this will become far more acute. In 2018 alone, UNHCR reported that at least 4 million refugee children had no access to primary school.

I am delighted that so many major sports have agreed to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework and the 5 following principles:

  1. Promoting greater environmental responsibility; 2. Reducing overall climate impact; 3. Educating for climate action; 4. Promoting sustainable and responsible consumption; and 5. Advocating for climate action through communication.

However, while many sports are highly active in reducing overall climate impact (2), few are educating for climate action (4) or advocating for climate action through communication (5) on a systemic basis.

Sport is often called a ‘global family’ and this is certainly both a common refrain in football, and accurate in its characterisation of the commonality, sense of community and brother and sisterhood felt between competing nations.

Too many of our family are being, and will be, forced from their homes through both internal and cross-border migration from environmental factors and all of sport should recognise a common duty to assist our global community.


Sport is a universal language through which, for the first time, we are beginning to see the incredibly positive, uplifting and beneficial promulgation of universal rights and I congratulate all involved in the fast emerging field, however policies are only the first step, enforcement and adherence is proving a challenge to the prevailing system.

It is critical that Member States everywhere understand that by upholding sport’s social contract and responsibility to provide opportunity, a safe space, equality, health and wellbeing benefits for all, we carry the world closer towards a commonality of human interaction, greater understanding of humanitarian values, high profile role models for the next generation, and respect for the Economic, Social and Cultural rights and peace and security for all.

Football must commit to upholding its human rights policy or human beings like Hakeem, or Sahar will be lost and this will take greater strength of independence and advocacy from the players themselves. A stronger focus must also be placed on the growing tide of racism, given trends across the world today.

The economic rights of women everywhere are supported by our wonderful, female footballers who are pressing their rightful claims which should include equal governance representation as an urgent priority, and I call on all governing bodies of sport to advocate more voluminously for environmental sustainability given the immense, projected, negative impact on the rights of tens of millions of our global family from climate migration in years to come.

Our voice and positive support, in sport, and not only our compliance, is critical to achieving the global progress we need to see.

I thank you for your time and urge you to carry the message back to your countries that the synthesis of human rights and sport will benefit humanity and take us forward in a spirit of not only competition, but shared human values and a more sustainable, better world for all.

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