With the Olympic Games Paris 2024 less than a month away, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach outlined the role of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement in promoting inclusion and peace in his opening statement in a panel discussion that was part of the 56th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council.

The “Quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal” was chaired by Omar Zniber, the President of the Human Rights Council, and opened by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and the IOC President with keynote addresses. It took place on 1 July, under the theme of “Promoting inclusiveness in and through sports”, which had been proposed by Greece. The event was part of the 56th session of the UN Human Rights Council, taking place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, from 18 June to 12 July.

Inclusivity as a fundamental part of the Olympic Movement

President Bach highlighted how inclusiveness was enshrined in the values of the Olympic Games.

At the Olympic Games, all people are equal, regardless of their country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, social status, religion or political belief, The Olympic Games can only become this inspiring symbol of peace through a commitment to inclusion and solidarity. Our mission compels us to always embrace human diversity, and never to exclude others. Non-discrimination is enshrined in the Olympic Charter, our constitution.

He went on: “To highlight our commitment to inclusion and solidarity, we have amended our historic Olympic motto – Faster, Higher, Stronger – by adding the word ‘Together’.”

The IOC President also described how sport is uniquely positioned to foster inclusion: “This is what brings us all together today: a shared belief in the power of sport to make the world a better place for everyone,” he said. “In these divisive times, with wars and conflicts on the rise, it has never been more important to build inclusive communities. Sport is the low-cost, high-impact tool for all countries to do this.”

“This is why the IOC is focused on strengthening this important enabling role of sport and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: in the areas of social inclusion, gender equality, promoting tolerance – and in particular, promoting peace. To improve lives. To make communities more inclusive.”

President Bach explained that, while the Olympic Games could not offer a panacea to human rights issues, the IOC was determined to continue to strengthen the role of sport in promoting peace and fostering inclusive communities.

The Olympic Games are our principal remit. As a non-governmental organisation, we have neither the mandate nor the capability to change laws of sovereign countries. We cannot solve human rights issues which generations of politicians were unable to solve. But within our remit, we take action. We are doing so by fully aligning with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and promoting good governance, ethics and integrity.

“We are doing so by promoting gender equality: the Olympic Games Paris 2024 will be the very first Olympic Games with full gender parity because the IOC allocated exactly 50 per cent of the quota places to female and 50 per cent to male athletes. We are doing so by supporting Paralympic sport around the world through our partnership with the International Paralympic Committee.”

Finally, concerning athletes and their representation, President Bach explained: “These Olympic Games Paris 2024 will once again be the opportunity for all Olympic athletes to democratically elect their representatives. These elected representatives will then at the end of the Olympic Games become IOC Members with full voting rights. The Chair of their Commission, which they will elect themselves, will be a member of IOC Executive Board – again with full voting rights on all issues being discussed at the IOC.”

The full opening statement from the IOC President can be found here.

Empowering displaced people through sport

President Bach also highlighted the significant role of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, which will participate in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 with a record number of athletes, describing it as an emblematic symbol of the IOC’s commitment to inclusion.

Among the panellists joining the Human Right Council session was IOC Member Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee from Sudan who was a member of the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and who now sits of the board of the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF). He is an IOC Member with full voting rights and one of the few, if not the only refugee in a decision-making body of an international organisation. In his address to the panel, he shared his insight into how important sport can be in offering a sense of belonging for displaced people.

The panel discussion that followed the opening statements was an opportunity to assess the impact of sport’s universality and its values of fair play and teamwork, and to identify how future Olympic Games and major sports events can help to fight discrimination and strengthen human rights more widely.

Other panellists were the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Alexandra Xanthaki; table tennis Paralympian Najlah Imad Al-Dayyeni; and Ginous Alford, the Director of Sport and Human Rights at the World Players Association.