The message for countries is clear: educate your people; ensure their health; give them voice and justice, financial systems that work, and sound economic policies, and they will respond.…

— James D. Wolfensohn

 Human Rights defined simply refer to those rights of humans that are regarded as essential to their living and functioning in an open and democratic country. Examples of such rights are the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to shelter and protection etc. Countries such as Canada, India and America have been the forerunners of freedom for many years.

Sport is said to be a microcosm of society. In other words, it is an aspect of society – only on a smaller scale, and therefore governed by the same general norms and values as any civil society. Inequalities and injustices that may be found in society could also be reflected in the world of sport. Thus the laws which regulate human behavior in society also generally apply to people in sport. In sports, there have been many instances where administrators and participants have digressed from the ideal state and denied one or more groups or individuals their rights.


Athletes and sports officials such as referees/ umpires and line-judges do not abandon their Human rights once they enter the boundary lines onto the field of play. Coaches and administrators who either acted as, or believed that they were absolute dictators in the course of conducting and governing their sport programmes have their ‘power’ severely diminished by the legal provisions already mentioned. The courts have increasingly recognised and accepted the athlete’s rights over the past decade. While coaches and administrators may have broad authority to control the behaviour of players, that authority has to be reasonable. The courts will usually regard the broad application of sports rules and regulations including ‘codes of conduct’ to be reasonable. The courts will not enforce sports rules, regulations and ‘codes of conduct’ which appear arbitrary or capricious. Sport bodies must understand that athletes possess the same rights and privileges as other citizens of their status.


Administrators, coaches and officials should be aware of the athlete’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Freedom of expression or freedom of speech protects verbal as well as non-verbal behaviour. Expressive conduct may be restricted if the behaviour causes substantial disruption or interference with the successful running of sports activities. One may have observed that at club sports and professional sports a large variety of gestures are tolerated. For instance, in modern football, it is common to find players celebrating a successful goal by raising their tops over their heads and running towards their fans to do some kind of jig. However, they may not all be tolerated in school sports programmes. Hair length of male athletes could be a problem that some coaches or team managers may be faced with. In some sports it may be for safety reasons that short hair is recommended. Each sport has its own rules which clearly spell out what kinds of behaviour will not be tolerated. Thus athletes and officials should abide by or enforce these specific behavioural rules. For instance, in tennis, if a player slams his racquet to the ground in objection to an umpire’s decision, he may be cautioned or penalised for racquet abuse. Likewise, in other sports, athletes are only free to express their feelings or opinions within the limits set by the rules of the sport. These rules ensure that social norms and values are respected.


Athletes possess a right to have the privacy of their bodies and belongings or effects respected. Coaches and team managers therefore cannot arbitrarily violate their privacy by, for instance searching their kit-bags and belongings for stolen items, drugs, weapons etc. Body searches could also violate this right. The right to privacy also has to be respected when urine is collected during drug testing of athletes. In this regard, drug testing laws specifically require male athletes to have their urine samples collected by males and female athletes by females. Athletes, particularly those who are young or scholars, quite often confide in their coaches. Such confidential information should be handled with respect. Athletes’ health or medical screening records should also be regarded as confidential and only used for ‘official’ sports reasons and only by those authorised to do so. They should be filed in such a way that non-authorised personnel do not have access to them.


Because of the competitive nature of sport, quite often disputes or differences of opinion arise. Participants quite often appeal certain decisions of sport officials or administrators. This makes it necessary to set up a disciplinary hearing, or a sport tribunal for the more serious offences such as a positive drug test, or a dismissal from employment on the grounds of misconduct. There are basic legal principles to be followed whenever athletes are subjected to such hearings or tribunals. The athlete should be given the opportunity to call witnesses and to cross- examine opposing witnesses and parties. The evidence from both sides is then considered to determine guilt or innocence. The athlete must be informed of the decision verbally and in writing. The appropriate punishment should only be decided on after the person has been found guilty.


Sport organizations have a legal responsibility to ensure that they do not practice any form of unfair discrimination. It is the responsibility of the administrators to educate all their members and staff to comply with these regulations. An additional responsibility placed upon sport administrators is the need to achieve social justice, by promoting equality. Specific targets have been determined by International Sports Federations in terms of promoting equal opportunities to previously disadvantaged communities (Stats, Language, religion, community, women, people with disabilities and rural populations). In our country, this justification is to be found in the Constitution, which clearly approves measures that are aimed at redressing past imbalances resulting from apartheid. It provides as follows:

“Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.”


It is important to consider a few questions relating to whether people who are HIV positive or suspected of being HIV positive could be treated differently in sport. There are many factors to consider here, as in modern professional sport, athletes could be seen as employees and their clubs or owners as employers. The main issue here is whether it is legally permissible for a sport to test participants for HIV/AIDS. These people also have the right to freely choose a trade, occupation or profession and cannot be simply be barred from participation or working in sport. Where sportspersons qualify as employees, and they fall within the scope of the Employment Equity Act, they may not be tested for their HIV status. It is important for International Sport Federations and other sport employers to study the Code of Good Practice on Key Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Employment.


Everyone has the right to take part in the sports and games of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

                                                                    —Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Here, the instances where human rights are most likely to be violated in sport and recreation were discussed and clarified. The expectation is that sports administrators, participants and all other stakeholders will familiarise themselves with these requirements and observe them in their daily efforts to provide access and opportunities to all to experience the beauty and joy of sport.

Source by Dr.I.Rajagopal