Media freedom in sport underlined at UN ministerial conference in Russia
Unsung heroes including journalists, whistle-blowers and the wider independent news community must be protected in their contribution to sport integrity and access to sport information.
That powerful message was delivered to sports ministers and officials, the sports movement and non-governmental experts today (July 15th) at a conference, in Kazan, also attended by the News Media Coalition. Sports ministers from around the world adopted the Kazan Action Plan on sport integrity, inclusiveness and sustainbility.
Andrew Moger, NMC Executive Director, speaking during a working group session, called on governments and sport organisations to adopt explicit provisions to protect ‘media freedom’ as spelled out in the UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport, adopted in 2015 and known as the ‘Sports Charter’.
The ‘Sports Charter’, in Article 10.10, states: ‘Public authorities and sports organizations should encourage the media to promote and protect the integrity of physical education, physical activity and sport. The media are invited to fulfil their role as critical and independent observers of events, organizations and stakeholders, informing the public of the benefits, risks and educational values of physical education, physical activity and sport.’
Yesterday, sports ministries were invited to implement a major policy programme, called the Kazan Action Plan, which is tied to the UNESCO ‘Sports Charter’, including policies to protect ‘media freedom’.
The final version of the plan, which was revised during the Sixth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI), includes Point 17, states: ‘Underlining that, in order for national sport authorities, government and non-governmental authorities effectively to address the full spectrum of sport integrity policy areas, synergies amongst these areas must be developed in terms of prevention education and awareness-raising, legislation, protection of whistle-blowers and media freedom, information exchange and investigation, as well as related human, technical and financial capacities;’
Opening today’s plenary session on Sport Integrity, Jens Sejer Andersen, Director of Play the Game, told ministers that the news media had played a vital role in uncovering wrong-doing on the field of play and within sports administration.
‘A few have made progress recently, for instance international athletics. But there rarely improve on their own initiative.’
‘The IOC, FIFA and the IAAF all went through massive outside pressure from the media and politicians before they reluctantly understood that change was necessary.’
‘May I remind you that not one single item on today’s sports integrity agenda was first raised by the authorities of sport.
We would not discuss sexual harassment if courageous individuals had not decided to share their childhood trauma with the public, at great personal costs. Issues of workers’ rights in stadium construction were raised by unions and civil society groups.’
‘Sports governance would not be a word in our dictionary if it was not for sports administrators and investigative reporters working secretly and tirelessly together over many, many years. We would not discuss systemic doping if fearless athletes, scientists and journalists had not gone undercover to get the irrefutable documentation on several occasions since the mid-1990’ies.
‘Should anyone in the room believe that an uneasy relation to whistle-blowers is a specific Russian challenge, allow me to correct that assumption.’
He said that over the years there have been testimonies from whistle-blowers, reporters and independent experts in countries as different as Australia, Qatar, Nigeria, Canada, Norway, Argentina, Philippines, Italy, United Kingdom – and they have all experienced attacks in various forms on their personal reputation, livelihood and even life threats.
These are the unsung heroes who have shown the rest of us the true picture of the challenges around us. Without them, we would not know the reality on the ground and we would be fumbling in the dark.
Mr Andersen called on ministers to adopt a three point ‘gold’ standard to start to deal with sport movement’s ills, including match-fixing, corruption doping.
1) Live up to the commitment you already undertook in the new UNESCO Charter (which includes Article 10.10 reference to the news media ‘role as critical and independent observers of events, organizations and stakeholders’. ‘Invite athletes, coaches, youth groups, volunteers, local authorities, urban planners, health organisations, private gyms, educators, referees and many other stakeholders to nation-wide consultation on which priorities your country should have for sport, play and physical activity.’
2) Re-distribute the public grants that most governments shower generously over sport, so they reflect the outcomes of the stakeholder debate and the strategy you decide to follow. ‘It is your responsibility to have legislation in place so that sports associations are not hijacked by criminal elements, such as it happens much too often today.’
‘Setting up objective criteria for public support to sport is not undermining association freedom, but protecting it from abuse. It will also enable you to secure that public money is spent more effectively, and you may even save money – last week UK Sport saved £9 million because table tennis did not meet the governance criteria for receiving support.’
3) Make sure that the public debate on sport is truly open and welcomes the best facts, the best scientific data, and the best personal experiences available – even when truth is inconvenient.
Mr Andersen called upon those that have blown the whistle on Russian sport corruption to be allowed to continue their lives back home: ‘I have noted with interest that among the new measures taken by the Russian government to increase its credibility in anti-doping affairs, there is a hand stretched out to protect future whistle-blowers. This is a much-welcomed move, and I think it will be fully trusted by athletes and coaches if the government will also create the conditions to convince whistle-blowers of the past, such as the Stepanov family and others, that they can safely return to the home country they love.’
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