By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – The world’s leading players’ associations unveiled a universal declaration of player rights on Thursday designed to give athletes a global voice and protect them from the fallout from corruption and a broken anti-doping system.
The World Players Association (WPA), whose member unions include FIFPro, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB and which represents more than 85,000 athletes from 60 countries, hailed the declaration as the first comprehensive articulation of athletes’ rights.
Among the 17 articles laid out in the document are an athlete’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, the ability to organise and bargain collectively and to have a work place free of discrimination.
Union leaders also made clear that their members needed to be protected from an anti-doping system that is focussed on athletes and not on the leagues, federations, countries and owners who might support and encourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Brendan Schwab, executive director of the WPA, likened the institutional and state-mandated doping uncovered in Russia by the World Anti-Doping Agency and International Olympic Committee investigations to something close to “subjecting athletes to scientific experimentation in pursuit of sporting success”.
The WPA believes that athletes’ rights to a fair trial have often been trampled on in the name of clean sport and a new anti-doping system needs to be developed to protect players rather than victimise them.
“This has occurred under the eyes of an international governance system that imposed a very strict and rigid framework which we believe does not respect the fundamental rights of athletes, in terms of the presumption of innocence, in terms of rights for a fair trial, in terms of just and proportionate penalties,” said Schwab during a conference call from Washington D.C. where the document was released.
“We have this inconsistency of corruption existing under this anti-doping system, yet the fundamental rights of athletes are not being respected.
“We want to devise an anti-doping system that respects the fundamental rights but, more importantly, is also effective.”
DeMaurice Smith, the director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), said if sport was truly to rid itself of drugs, anti-doping crusaders needed to look beyond the athlete and what was taking place on the field of play.
“I find it somewhat ironic when it comes to the issues of clean sport that there is almost an automatic leap to issues of doping and athlete cheating and virtually no discussion about the corruption that has clearly infected sports bodies, sports leagues and sports owners,” said Smith.
“Journalists spend a lot of time talking about WADA and doping but the one thing to me that seems to be far more systemic and far more pervasive is perhaps the corruption that infects sports governing bodies.”
(Editing by Neville Dalton)