Ilias Bantekas


International sports federations celebrate and impose strict political neutrality in their institutional rules. Such neutrality is inconsistent with the individual rights of athletes to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The contractual basis of such restriction is irrelevant because fundamental rights are constitutionally entrenched and cannot be limited by contract or law, save for if the expression incites to violence, hatred, discrimination or is otherwise inconsistent with criminal law. There is no empirical evidence suggesting that restricting the political expression of influential athletes leads to generalized political or other violence. Instead, it is clear that international sports federations, and particularly their executive organs, are wary of upsetting the disparate political sentiments of their constituent national federations for which human rights are a form of friction due to their quasi-corporate structure. This Article argues that while it is acceptable to curb the inciteful expression of fans and spectators, there is no legal basis to restrict the fundamental rights of individual athletes, including those whose countries have been otherwise sanctioned for egregious human rights violations and blatant wars of aggression. In fact, such athletes may well influence internal developments contrary to the aggressor’s propaganda.