Opinion

Football has a duty to protect the rights of every Australian

The Socceroos pose for a photo before their match against Lebanon Source: AAP

As Australia’s largest participation sport, and the nation’s most multicultural, football has so much to offer to the country in terms of universal values of respect, inclusion, anti-discrimination and equality.

Our collective commitment to these values comes into particularly sharp focus on World Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which provides a moment to reflect on the challenges that so much of our community still confront.

We cannot overstate the fundamental role our football community can play in shaping the future of Australia by ensuring these values and rights remain part of the fabric of our social and political lives. Together, we are millions strong and our voice can guide the national conversation.

Football has the ability to empower communities to demonstrate their capability and ambition on the national and global stage, be it our phenomenal female athletes, the Pararoos or Australians of all backgrounds from our refugee and migrant communities. 

However, our human rights record is increasingly in question and today we should reflect on the rights of all Australians and those arriving here by air or sea with a passion for our game, and who become part of our community, to basic protections under international law.

An Amnesty International Australia report released today highlights a range of issues requiring redress to re-balance societal expectations of fairness and egalitarianism, with serious breaches of our international obligations.

We might begin by contrasting the high regard with which our mighty Matildas are held in with basic women’s rights under threat more broadly.

The report discusses the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence against women internationally - the continuing violence that sees one average Australian women die at the hands of a current or former partner every week.

Online and, in particular, social media abuse of women have a severe effect on their well-being and mental health and remains an escalating problem in need of urgent, legislative remedy.

We experienced this directly during Russia 2018 with social media attacks on Lucy.

Her amazing strength of character to deal with the trolling and emerge as a public champion of change in no way diminishes the horror of the phenomenon.

Others have not been able to manage the issue so effectively and it has contributed to the loss of life.

Workplace equality, including positions of governance in football, is another issue where our game needs to provide leadership.

Just five of the 28 FIFA Council members and none of the six Vice Presidents are female, and we have much to do to provide stronger career pathways for our own women, on and off field.

The continuing lack of commitment to principles of equality in remuneration for female players is something needing redress, as we see in the widening gap in prize money for female and male World Cups (the male FIFA World Cup prize money between 2014-2018 rose US$42 million and just US$15 million for the women between 2015-2019).

Even as our female Indigenous stars like Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams perform admirably on the world stage, the right of Indigenous Australians to self-determination and the lack of a treaty and constitutional recognition remains a blight on our nation, despite ratification of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009. Sadly, last year’s Uluru statement has led us no closer.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz called the routine detention of young indigenous children the most distressing part of her visit to Australia as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are incarcerated 25 times more often than the remaining population; 13 times for adults, with Aboriginal women being the fastest growing prison demographic.

This is something about which I feel particularly shameful, saddened and yet deeply inspired to help change.

Spending so many years assisting with indigenous football programs has given me a deep motivation to do what I can for indigenous Australia more broadly, football being just one vehicle for change and I urge you to join me in a football movement for reconciliation.

Amnesty says countries around the world this year have more than halved resettlement placements for refugees, offering only 75,000, down from 163,000, at a time when the global refugee population is escalating. 

In our domestic football community, we need not look far to see the positive human effect of refugee settlement, from my great former colleague, Les Murray, to recent Socceroos, Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng.

Nor the negative, with the recent detention of former Bahraini international, refugee and now Australian resident and Pascoe Vale player, Hakeem al-Araibi in a Thai detention centre.

Standing up for the rights of Hakeem, as so many of our community have done in the past week (and well done to you all) shows that we value the rights of all, and gives us hope that we can truly make a difference. 

One can only wonder what Les would make of it all.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights and the High Commissioner for Refugees called on the Australian Government to end offshore processing of asylum seekers. While we acquiesce, it goes on.

Like me, many of you will believe that we have an obligation to treat everyone humanely, and it is open to us to do much more to be heard rather than accept the political narrative out of the necessity to hurt others in the name of protecting Australians.

But the report also contains good news on how countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Spain and Argentina are embracing community-based refugee sponsorship.

I’m excited about the potential of this approach, which more than 20 local councils in Australia are already advocating for.

Community sponsorship is a perfect example of individual Australians opening up their hearts and their neighbourhoods in a way that can only enrich our society.

I’m delighted to be an Ambassador for the Amnesty community sponsorship program in Australia and to give more new Australians an opportunity to forge a wonderful life like Les, Awer, Thomas and, we pray, Hakeem.

Recently, we have seen a rise in divisive rhetoric globally from which we are far from immune, leading to the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mutuma Rateere raising concerns that ‘xenophobic hate speech, including by politicians’ was becoming more prevalent in this country.

This emboldens those seeking to demonise minority communities and, on this day in 1948 when the world expressly agreed that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’, it is clear that we have much work to do to ensure that every Australian feels equally valued, welcome and protected by law and the wider community.

As a member of the Multicultural Council of Australia, I am really concerned by research that shows there are a growing number of communities who feel attacked and marginalised, that they’re not given a ‘fair go’ and, at SBS as well as in football, we believe that articulating a message of tolerance and inclusion is consistent with both Australia’s values, and broader human rights.

As always, football’s ability to span all cultures in this country will put the game at the forefront of championing this diversity and the human rights of every Australian. That is part of what we bring to Australian life and why we are so important as a major constituent in shaping a shared future.

So I hope you join me today, as part of our richly diverse football family, in reaffirming our commitment to the universal human rights that the world agreed on 70 years ago. 

Indeed, I would argue, as football people it is our duty. 

Craig Foster is an Ambassador for the Amnesty Refugee Community Sponsorship Program 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2018/12/human-rights-today/