PtG Comment 30.06.2022

Sportswashing is a deep contradiction of the core values of sport

SPEECH: The Danish Minister for Culture, Ane Halsbo-Jørgensen, attended Play the Game 2022 on its last day.  She is also the minister for sport and gave a speech about her thoughts on sportswashing.

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak here at Play the Game's 25th anniversary conference.

Sport creates communities, it educates us and is simply good for body and soul. I grew up in a small town in the northern part of Denmark with a strong sports community. Some of my happiest childhood memories are from the local sports club. It not only brought me joy, but also taught me the importance of being a part of a team and how to play fair.

Sadly, corruption, manipulation and undemocratic decision-making have become inevitable parts of professional sport. Such acts undermine the core values of the game and threaten its integrity.

We see this directly when international sport federations completely disregard basic human rights when awarding international sport events.

Overall, these challenges create a breeding ground for sportswashing.

One clear example of these challenges is the upcoming World Cup in men's football in Qatar. A FIFA committee awarded Qatar the right to host the World Cup back in 2010. A decision they made behind closed doors affected by corruption. This decision-making exposed a huge lack of transparency and democracy within FIFA. Qatar was known and is still known as a country that violates human rights. The preparations for the World Cup have clearly exposed the human rights situation in Qatar with horrible consequences for the many migrant workers, women and LGBT+ persons in the country. This is sportswashing at its worst.

Another example of sportswashing is the many football clubs owned by dubious moneymen from authoritarian regimes. We experience this in Denmark as well. Football is built around fans, emotions and communities. We must cherish that. Therefore, these moneymen do not belong in Danish football. It harms the sport and everything it stands for. We must demand healthy ownership in professional football.

In the end of 2021, I took the initiative to issue a statement on transparency, democracy, and human rights in the work of international sport federations.

The statement calls for action from the international sport federations in order to increase transparent and democratic decision-making. Specifically, when the federations are to award international sports events to countries.

Furthermore, it calls for respect for all human rights, including the rights of migrant workers and LGBT+ persons. As well as freedom of expression and assembly in the preparation and execution of major sport events.

23 European countries have signed the statement so far. It is an important first step for more democracy and transparency in international sport. And hopefully, in the future we will avoid another event like the World Cup in Qatar.

Sportswashing is a deep contradiction to the core values of sport. Values like teamwork, strong community, and fairness. Sport should not be used by dictators to adorn themselves with borrowed feathers. Sport is supposed to give the population wings and create communities across cultures.

I know that Play the Game is already fighting this battle. Thank you very much for your tireless work to promote democracy, openness and freedom of expression in international sport. You can be very proud of your achievements.

I hope that many of you who are here today will also take part in the fight against sportswashing. Once again, thank you for having me today, and thank you all for your attention.

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See the conference website