Mary Harvey, chief executive of the CSHR, has spoken of how crisis can prove a turning point for sporting organisations ©ITG

Mary Harvey, chief executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR), which has just published its strategic plan Convergence 2025, has likened some sports federations to individuals in crisis who have the opportunity to change significantly when in a dire position.

"Whenever there is crisis, it’s a bit like if you hit rock bottom you are willing to start to take certain steps that maybe previously wouldn’t have been something you’d look at," Harvey, goalkeeper for the United States women’s soccer team that won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and Olympic gold at Atlanta 1996, told insidethegames.

"What’s important about that is the willingness to look at making certain changes.

"In crisis there is an opportunity for renewal and change."

Harvey has been working in tandem with David Grevemberg, who joined CSHR in April this year as chief innovation and partnerships officer after spending six and a half years as chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Her comments came at a time when several sporting bodies, including the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the International Boxing Association (AIBA), are facing severe challenges to their future.

By way of an example, however, Harvey instanced the radical recent reformation within football’s world governing body, FIFA, which in April 2016 commissioned John Ruggie of Harvard University, who wrote the United Nations (UN) guiding principles on business and human rights, to produce its own Human Rights document entitled For the Game, For the World.

"So that’s the knowledge part, right?" she said.

"And then the leadership part is to say ‘We are going to take what’s been revealed to us, the knowledge part, and we’re going to do something with it.

"We are now going to take a leadership position, from the top down, and say we are now going to take steps now and implement it."

Ruggie died on September 16 this year.

"John was the father of UN guiding principles for human rights," Harvey added.

"We have lost an absolutely massive person in the field.

"Through him, FIFA made a statutory commitment to respect human rights.

"And it was on the back of a reform that was preceded by existential crisis.

"And for all the anecdotal wisdom that we have around FIFA, they have done this.

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights has recently  released its strategic plan, Convergence 2025  ©CSHR
The Centre for Sport and Human Rights has recently released its strategic plan, Convergence 2025 ©CSHR

"The whole point around holding each other accountable is that that then sets in motion a chain reaction.

"FIFA does this, sponsors of FIFA, who are companies who sign up to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, are now seeing this as an opportunity to engage with FIFA on a human rights basis.

"So you now have all these different actors because a decision was taken and there was a chain reaction from that.

"At this point we have an opportunity where others can hold each other accountable for commitments they have made.

"And if they haven’t made those commitments – ‘Why haven’t you made those commitments!’

"So it’s a positive, not a naming-and-shaming type of commitment."

Harvey added: "A human rights-based approach is looking at everything through the lens of ‘what are possible harms to people?’

"And coming from sport, if you look at the Olympic Charter, if you look at the FIFA bylaws, if you look at what people talk about in terms of what sport provides in terms of human capital development - it provides all these wonderful things.

"And it is part of the values of sport - ideas of respect and non-discrimination and all these things that I’ve had the privilege to live, as have many others.

"However, that is only possible in the absence in harm.

"If there’s no harm, everything is possible.

"But if there is harm, we have to address it.

"And so in many ways it is helping sport further realise its own contribution to mankind."

Read the full interview in the Big Read