It is a well-known fact that sports personalities have no privacy. Many people think they have the right to pry into their hero’s private lives and the mainstream media gladly supports it as a way to make money. Athletes have also accepted that they can’t exercise their right to privacy as freely as other people. Basically, famous athletes have no right to private life.
However, when it comes to exercising other human rights, athletes don’t hesitate to push back. Racism, inequality, homophobia, are still present in sports, leading to the violation of human rights of many athletes. These are five of them.
Venus and Serena Williams
The Williams sisters are among the best players in the modern tennis history. Having won tens of titles, they are always in the center of attention wherever they appear. But, they had caught other people’s attention long before they became world famous.
According to their own words, their early success as a junior player was often accompanied by racial comments. The other kids, as well as their parents, would often speak ill of them due to their skin color, ridicule their appearance, and belittle their victories.
These events are vividly described in their book titled Venus & Serena: Serving From The Hip: 10 Rules For Living, Loving and Winning, published back in 2005.
Kevin Prince Boateng
There are many football players in the Italian Serie A who have walked off the pitch due to racial chants against them. Marc Zoro, Mario Balotelli, Ali Sulley Muntari are just a few of them.
The most important walk off, however, was the one by Kevin-Prince Boateng, a German-Ghanaian footballer of AC Milan who was picked on by Pro Patria supporters during a friendly game in 2013. He reacted by striking the ball in the direction of the racist fans, taking off his shirt, and walking off the pitch. Players from both teams tried to change his mind, but he was determined not to take it anymore.
Finally, he’d get the support he deserved for this act. The players from both teams solidarized with him and decided to abandon the game, while the rest of the crowd cheered in support.
“Shame that these things still happen… #StopRacismforever”, tweeted Boateng right after the incident. The then-AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri added: “I’m disappointed and saddened, but I think it was the right decision not to return to the field out of respect for our players and all other black players”.
“In Afghanistan, women football players are called prostitutes. Football is seen as a male game”, says Khalida Popal, an Afghan football player whose human rights have been violated for being a woman athlete.
Nowadays, she lives in an asylum in Denmark. She was the first ever captain of the women national football team of her country, but she is not being seen as a legend. Instead, her life is under threat due to the rigid societal norms.
“My mother taught me to play football and at first I played for fun. But soon, I started facing resistance from both men and women. My teachers kicked me out of their class because I played football. But if men can play football, why not women?”, she says. “Football allowed us to come together as a group, to raise awareness. We were four girls in the team. People threw rocks and garbage at us. I received many death threats. Finally, I had to choose between my family and being alive. I left my country. It was the most difficult decision. I am a woman, and I am strong. I will not be silenced.”
On the winter Olympics in 2018, Adam Rippon and Eric Radford were first-ever openly gay athletes to reach the podium in figure skating. If you believe the stereotypes around this sport, you may be surprised that no other openly gay skater has ever won an Olympic medal. But, it doesn’t mean that no one has really won it.
42 years ago, British skater John Curry won the Olympic gold medal in figure skating. The gold medal winner that has just won sympathies now became less popular. Some newspapers that reproduced the story about him had even avoided words “gay” and “homosexuality” at all.
However, it wasn’t the first time to have difficulty in exercising his rights to talk about his sexuality in peace. “When I started to skate, I had a coach who used to grab my arm and push it back to my side when I finished a movement with it in the air,” Curry said. “This man wanted me to skate in a certain way and when I didn’t, he beat me. Literally beat me. And there were more humiliating things. He sent me to a doctor as if there were something to treat.” None other figure skating athletes followed Curry’s lead until recently.
Jean-Marc Bosman is a famous football player, but not due to his football skills. He was just an average Belgian league player, which is not a wild success. His great success, however, is the impact he has on football players’ lives.
In 1990, Bosman was playing for RDC Liege but wanted to move to the French club Dunkerque. Even though his contract with Liege had expired, the club prevented him from joining Dunkerque by asking for a high release clause. Bosman thought that as an EU citizen, he has the right to move freely and work in any other EU country and took the case to the European Court of Justice.
Fortunately for him and other EU football players, the court ruled that athletes have the right to move freely like any other EU worker. That way, Jean-Marc Bosman helped other players have their workers’ right protected from violation like the one he had suffered.