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Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:43 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Young of Hornsey Baroness Young of Hornsey Crossbench 3:43 pm, 3rd February 2020

Lords, first let me restate that, as a fan of most sports, I am delighted and excited that we are hosting this festival celebrating dedication to sporting prowess. Once again, I congratulate Birmingham on having landed this major sporting event and on delivering a credible submission in such a short space of time. I hope the Games will in turn deliver for the West Midlands, especially in terms of incentivising sporting activity at a grass-roots level and economic success.

Although I did not participate in Second Reading of the first iteration of this Bill, I supported the amendments in Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, concerning human rights and what might be properly considered as belonging in the Bill. I realise that the Government’s position on this is unlikely to change. However, I want to place on record some of the key issues that deserve fuller recognition as notable challenges for any authority staging large-scale events. I am grateful to Mission 89 for a briefing on some of these issues, particularly those relating to modern slavery and trafficking in and through sport.

I think I am right in saying that the Birmingham Commonwealth Games is the first major international sporting event to take place in the UK since the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The multiple ways in which sport might be implicated in the various forms of modern slavery are beginning to be recognised in the sporting world, but there is still a huge amount of awareness-raising and policy-making to be done, as well as implementation and training to be followed through, as indeed there is across all industrial and business sectors.

In a major advance in thinking and action on modern forms of slavery and sport, the Commonwealth Games Federation has committed to addressing the risk of modern slavery in its workforce and supply chain, and among its athletes, through its human rights policy and modern slavery statement. However, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill currently considers only the financial, logistical and operational aspects of the Games, along with a general commitment to implement the CGF values.

Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the subsequent discussions that we have had, I argue that this Bill represents an opportunity to bring the commitments to address human rights and modern slavery to the forefront of authorities’ planning of major sporting events in the future by putting those commitments into law, thereby setting a precedent for organisers of future major sports events, such as the men’s and women’s European Football Championships that will be held in the next year or so. Indeed, this Bill could be seen as the start of a process that would ensure that countries and cities bidding to host major sporting events had a statutory obligation to consider and develop strategies to address human rights and modern slavery risks before such events were even awarded. I think that that view is shared by many within the sector, especially by the CGF.

It is important that the Birmingham Games are not seen as an isolated event. They are the culmination of the Transformation 2022 agenda, which the Commonwealth Games Federation has been working on for several years. Transformation 2022 is supported unanimously by all 71 nations and territories of the Commonwealth, so this is very much about the movement and not just about this event in 2022 in the UK. Furthermore, the CGF will be applying these standards to all future Commonwealth events, not just Birmingham. Likewise, the UK might want to consider whether those standards should be applied to any event hosted on UK soil, whether it be rugby, cricket, football, the Olympics, athletics or whatever.

The Commonwealth Games Federation should be recognised for its work in raising the bar in that respect. The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games had a human rights policy, as well as a sustainable sourcing code and grievance mechanism. Furthermore, Birmingham 2022 is the result of its own Commonwealth movement, which, again, is supported by every nation of the Commonwealth.

Although we might like to feel confident that activities around modern slavery and trafficking will not blight the Birmingham Games, none the less we still need to be vigilant, as Birmingham 2022 acknowledges. Although these Games might have a low risk of modern slavery according to its modern slavery statement, it is important that such risks are considered. The Birmingham 2022 modern slavery statement points out that

“no part of our business is immune to the risks of modern slavery”.

That lesson has been learned in a very hard way by many businesses and industries.

I am pleased to note that the Games statement is more thorough than many of the statements we have seen and analysed from the wider business community. Anyone who has done that task will be in despair about some of the transparency and supply chain statements that have been made in other businesses. However, this one goes through the issues in some detail. That is necessary because instances abound of mega sporting events being used in a variety of ways to lure unsuspecting adults and/or their children into being trafficked, especially young people from poorer backgrounds. I have an example from the men’s World Cup, which, as noble Lords may recall, was held in June 2018. Fifteen children were prevented from boarding planes in Lagos, Nigeria, after authorities noticed that they had only one-way tickets. It is suspected that these children had been supplied with World Cup supporter ID cards by their traffickers and that a corrupt police and immigration officer had been part of the scheme. These unaccompanied children were mostly girls. It is suspected that the traffickers had persuaded the parents that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take them out of poverty and to take advantage of the alleged riches on offer in Russia and elsewhere. This is not just an isolated incident.

Although we may feel that such incidents will not be a feature of the Birmingham Games, it is worth thinking about the opportunities offered by the Games to raise awareness among participating athletes and their colleagues. For example, there could be materials that reference how to protect athletes from trafficking, and promotional activities concerning the potential signs of human trafficking and fake agents at the grass-roots level, as well as in supply chains relating directly to athletes. All this could be hugely beneficial to participating athletes. There needs to be much better access to information about the ways in which various interested and criminal parties lure athletes and their entourages into these awful situations. Indeed, the risk of human trafficking in sport should be considered in all measures on child safeguarding.

Moving on from modern slavery, I want to consider the mental well-being of athletes. It is an important human right that athletes should have access to resources and therapeutic measures to address mental health disorders. These disorders are quite common among elite athletes, manifesting themselves in a variety of distressing symptoms.

Although the Bill is designed to fulfil a specific and quite limited function, I feel it would be a missed opportunity not to include more specific reference to the issues that I have outlined. This could build on the excellent work already being promoted by the Commonwealth Games Federation and raise the standards we expect from such events to an even higher level, thus making Birmingham 2022 the new benchmark.