The Sport & Rights Alliance argued the changes risk "restricting athletes’ ability to speak out about human rights issues" ©Getty Images

Human rights groups have warned proposed changes to the Olympic Charter expected to be approved at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session here leave athletes behind and could limit their ability to speak out about relevant issues.

Under the amendments revealed last month, the IOC wants to enshrine "respect for internationally recognised human rights and universal fundamental ethical principles within the remit of the Olympic Movement" within the Olympic Charter, along with "every individual must have access to the practice of sport, without discrimination of any kind in respect of internationally recognised human rights within the remit of the Olympic Movement".

It additionally wants to add "all competitors, team officials or other team personnel in the Olympic Games shall enjoy freedom of expression in keeping with the Olympic values and the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, and in accordance with the guidelines determined by the IOC Executive Board".

While the first set of amendments was broadly welcomed by groups behind today's statement, they have taken umbrage at guidelines being determined by the IOC Executive Board for the addition covering athletes' freedom of expression.

"This risks restricting athletes’ ability to speak out about human rights issues and organise collectively for better conditions, and exposes them to reprisals for exercising other fundamental freedoms - leaving athletes behind in the IOC’s implementation of its commitment in its Strategic Framework to respecting human rights," the Sport & Rights Alliance argued.

The World Players Association's director of sports and human rights Ginous Alford argued the changes differentiated between the rights of athletes and other groups in the Olympic Movement.

The IOC wants to enshrine
The IOC wants to enshrine "respect for internationally recognised human rights" within the Olympic Charter ©Getty Images

"Athletes have long demanded that sport bodies incorporate human rights standards into their governing documents to address the systemic abuse, violations, discrimination and exploitation in sport," Alford said.

"However, the IOC continues to impose a different set of rules when it comes to athlete rights, which undermines this goal.

"The IOC and its Human Rights Advisory Committee should heed calls from athletes and other stakeholders to clarify the Olympic Movement’s responsibilities to respect the fundamental rights and dignity of athletes as workers and human beings."

Sport & Rights Alliance acting director Rachel Causey called on the IOC to ensure the changes are fully implemented in practice.

"As the head of global sport, the IOC has a responsibility to seek to prevent and address human rights harms linked to its operations, and to remedy harms that it causes or contributes to directly," she said.

"Now that human rights are finally to be included in global sport’s foundational documents, it is essential for the IOC to live up to its human rights responsibilities - starting with the athletes, fans, migrant and supply chain workers; unhoused populations and all those we know are already being affected by the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Amnesty International head of economic and social justice Steve Cockburn said the changes to the Olympic Charter were "a strong signal that it is time for the sporting world to get serious about living up to its responsibilities", but concurred the proof would be in its implementation.

Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden welcomed the amendments as "a critical step toward [the IOC] fulfilling its responsibility as the leader of a vast global industry with enormous human rights impacts".

She said "this move sends an important message that all of global sport needs to come in line with international human rights standards", although noted "problematic language".

The IOC acknowledged the statement from the Sport & Rights Alliance.

"We take note of the letter of the SRA and their support for the changes, which are, as they say 'a strong signal' while expressing some concerns regarding the specific wording," it told insidethegames.

The IOC had faced particular criticism of its handling of human rights issues related to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The United Nations then-High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet last year documented the discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang and a general restriction on individual and collective human rights in China, and found that this "may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity".

Changes to the Olympic Charter are set to be approved at the IOC Session in Mumbai which begins on Sunday ©Getty Images
Changes to the Olympic Charter are set to be approved at the IOC Session in Mumbai which begins on Sunday ©Getty Images

However, the IOC insisted it was politically neutral in the build-up to the Games, and insisted all Host City Contract obligations were met.

A Strategic Framework on Human Rights was approved by the IOC in September last year, focusing on "three spheres of responsibility" covering the IOC as an organisation, as owner of the Olympic Games and leader of the Olympic Movement.

Proposed Charter changes followed work by its Legal Affairs Commission and its consultation with the Advisory Committee on Human Rights.

IOC President Thomas Bach said the amendments are a "major step in our commitment to the respect for human rights".

They are expected to be approved on the first day of the Session in Mumbai on Sunday (October 15).