Human Rights: Sportswashing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 4:30, 21 March 2024

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what can only be described as a rich and informative debate underpinned by some values of sport—a respectful debate that brings people together regardless of differences of views and where we start. That was very important.

It was interesting that we started to go down the cul-de-sac of boycotts and bans. That was not the aim of this debate; I specifically did not use the terms in my opening remarks. The thrust of the debate I wanted, and most people got on to, was not just the role of the athletes and the events but the roles of the sporting management bodies and what happens when they do not take on those roles, and how the Government therefore deal with the issues we have spoken about today, such as human rights abuses.

I am not going to go through all noble Lords’ speeches, but the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, raised a really important issue to do with sponsorship. Interestingly, in F1, because of the lack of action by the sporting body even to engage, those of us who are concerned are looking at targeting Rolex, Heineken, DHL and Qatar Airways among other sponsors, because they have a moral duty, and the consumers of those products need to be aware of what they are contributing to.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said that sport cannot change the world. I think we all agree with that: sport cannot change the world, and there is a broader, more complex issue that sport has to engage with. But sports bodies can change their parts of the world and do things around human rights abuses in their contractual arrangements, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said.

I was slightly disappointed with the Minister. I am not going to give him a hard time on human rights in Bahrain. We could say we were shadow-boxing; I realise that he is not from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But some of the answers were disappointing with regards to the lack of action the Government are prepared to take when sporting bodies based in the UK are not meeting their international obligations. It does not fit together that the Government say they are not going to get involved in foreign entities owning sporting bodies in the UK when only a couple of days ago they agreed to do exactly the same with the press. I think there is an issue about why these foreign entities want to use sporting bodies in the UK. They are not investing millions of pounds in these bodies purely for the sake of sport—they understand what it brings to their countries’ reputations.

This has been a historic debate, because it is the first time that the UK Parliament has ever debated the concept of, and phrase, “sportswashing”—so we have taken part in an historic as well as an informative and rich debate. To come back to the football issue and the independent regulator, I think that we are getting to the point where amendments will be put with regard to foreign state ownership of clubs, if that is not being done for the right reason.

I will finish with the words of somebody who has been part of abuse in a country and who has tried to stand up for human rights when one of these sportswashing events was held. They said, “These events come and they go, and our country is seen in a light that the regime wants the rest of the world to see us. But our plight is ignored or dismissed by the sporting bodies as they get richer. Yet once they have gone, or sometimes once they are here, doing their sport, our freedoms don’t change and our rights can be crushed. Something isn’t working and something has to change.”

I hope that this debate has said that something has to change, and I look forward to keeping the pressure on the Government, along with other noble Lords, to make sure that bodies or clubs in this country are better regulated and that, if they do not carry out these issues and people continue having issues like this, further action will be taken.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.36 pm.