Human Rights: Sportswashing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:44 pm ar 21 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Ceidwadwyr 3:44, 21 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, on moving this Motion and on the powerful way in which he covered some very important issues, specifically those relating to Bahrain. I will pick up on some matters that other people have commented on and should identify that, as I think the House knows, I am fortunate enough to be the founder chairman of the world’s first gay rugby club. It is worth remembering that, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, human rights matters are issues not just in Bahrain but for the disabled, for women and for the LGBT community, in all sorts of different ways.

On the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, I checked the term “inspiration porn” on my phone and was not confronted by tractors or anything like that. Fortunately, inspiration porn is exactly as she said. However, it is well worth remembering that human rights issues do not apply only to countries in the Middle East, the Far East and to Russia; they apply to all of us, in different ways. Having been the founder chairman of the world’s first gay rugby club, I am fortunate enough to have watched the progress that all gay and lesbian teams have made in this country as they have broken down barriers over the past 30 years. We were an oddity when we were first formed in 1995; now, we are just part of the local leagues and regularly field four teams. There has been a complete change in society and attitudes towards us and our teams, and that is true on a worldwide basis. Sport can change attitudes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, referred to the growth in awareness of women’s sports. It has been quite sensational. Attendances at league matches have grown so much in a short time. Having said that, I remember having a text exchange with the noble Baroness in the middle of the Commonwealth Games, during the disabled marathon. She commented somewhat ruefully, when progress was being made in other ways, on the lack of participation in some disabled sports over the past decade. They have not grown in the way one hoped they would after the great successes of 2012 and onwards.

Several noble Lords referred to sports governing bodies. We all throw up our hands in despair at the behaviour of the vast majority of them. Some have been shown to be corrupt, while we know that others are just chasing the money in some form or another, but my noble friend Lord Moynihan made an important point: any sports boycott or action is effective only when taken as part of an overall international governmental approach. Otherwise, there is no point in asking sportsmen and sportswomen to boycott.

I remember having a conversation with my noble friend Lord Moynihan and Lord Coe about the 1980 British Olympic team being asked to boycott Moscow at the same time as the Bolshoi Ballet arrived in London. What on earth was the point of saying one thing to one group of people and a totally different thing to another? If we are going to send messages, we have to do it across the whole of society. There have been many references to F1; I am pleased that there is no F1 in Russia now, in part because of the international boycott. It no longer takes place. However, I say to F1 that, like other international bodies, it ought to listen to what is taking place.

There is a difference between the four-yearly Olympics and annual events such as Grands Prix. You can sign a contract for a Grand Prix over four, six or eight years and say, “If you don’t make progress, we’re going to cancel the contract immediately through force majeure. Alternatively, the contract won’t be renewed when it ends”. In the case of the Olympics, it is somewhat different, but the Olympics is awarded many years in advance so the International Olympic Committee should be willing to say, “We’ll award it but we want to see progress at the start of the contract, not at the point when the games take place”. That is absolutely the pinnacle of the event but much can be done beforehand.

There has been reference to sportswashing in events right through from the Berlin Olympics in 1936. It is tragic that the person who designed the first Olympic village, which was in Berlin in 1936, committed suicide two days after the closure of the games because it had been identified that one of his grandparents was Jewish and he would rather commit suicide than face anything thereafter.

I want to touch on one element of sport that has not been referred to this afternoon. The sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, Bridgestone and Visa, have an enormous amount to answer for. If they did not sponsor the events, they would not take place where they were. In conclusion, I really think that everybody should look at sponsorship. I quote the Coca-Cola website:

Coca Cola has been associated with the Olympic Games since 1928”.

Take note: that is before Berlin, yet it is mentioned with pride. It also says that it gives the

“opportunity to … celebrate with sports fans in … countries” around the world. What do the Uighurs in China, the lesbian and gay communities in Bahrain, and other oppressed minorities think of that? It is not just about sports organisations or Governments; the sponsors also have a lot of questions to answer.