Callum Murray’s guest on this edition of the Business of Sport podcast with the International Sports Convention is Mary Harvey, who graduated from playing in goal for the US women’s national soccer team that won both the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic games, to her present role as Chief Executive of the recently established Centre for Sport and Human Rights, a human rights organisation for the world of sport. In between, she worked for Fifa and then the successful joint bid by USA, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 men’s World Cup.
There couldn’t be a more timely and pivotal moment to discuss issues of human rights in sport and when asked if the Black Lives Matter campaign that’s sweeping the world presents an opportunity for the Centre to raise and amplify human rights issues in sport that might have been going unheard previously, Harvey replies: “Absolutely. I’m asking for a paradigm shift in every part of our lives. I’m not a person of colour, I’m white, but” – and here she quotes a banner she saw while attending a Black Lives Matter protest march the day before the interview – “silence equals privilege.” Harvey says she regards athletes who have staged high-profile protests, such as Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, as “human rights defenders, rather than troublemakers,” commending them for standing up for what they believe in, even though it might mean putting their livelihoods and their physical safety at risk. In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, she adds: “I really hope that sport now has an opportunity to look at itself and say, “we can do better by these people.”
In the interview, Harvey also discusses other contemporary human rights issues in sport, including the plight of migrant workers helping to build the infrastructure for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar and the case of Larry Nassar, the disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused dozens of young athletes, and how they can be prevented from recurring. “First thing is, don’t bury your head in the sand,” she says, with reference to the Nassar case. “It’s there. It’s in all walks of life and it’s a question of, let’s get serious about safeguarding.” The funding of bodies involved in sport integrity – combating doping, match-fixing and the abuse of athletes – also comes under the microscope, with Harvey pointing out that the anti-doping movement is by far the best funded of the three. “I think we have to look at that,” she says. “It’s disproportionate.” Harvey applauds the IOC’s moves towards gender parity in appointments to its commissions and in the athletes taking part in its events, but, for her, the “bible” on human rights in sport is The Ruggie Report. Written in 2016 by John Ruggie, Patron of the Institute for Human Rights and Business. “The Ruggie Report stands up over time in terms of what sports bodies can do to really embrace human rights…”, she says. “Any sports bodies that are listening to this, that really is a fantastic piece of work – and it’s public.”