In Judaism human rights are not divisible. There is never a time that they do not matter. There is no “other” who does not deserve the rights that you do. There is never a nation where abuses of human rights are acceptable.
Torah frequently tells us that “there shall be one law for the home-born as for the stranger.” From this, we assert that God does not see that one group of humans deserves a better life than another.
One of our Psalms sung every Shabbat evening says clearly that “God will judge all the peoples with equity.” It is perhaps no coincidence that René Cassin, a key author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, was Jewish.
The declaration states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” and Cassin’s legacy lives on in the communal human-rights charity bearing his name.
This religious commitment to human rights means whenever a sporting event is held in a country with a poor human rights record, Jews should join others in using the opportunity to campaign on behalf of those whose rights are violated.
Since 2008, many of the major international sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the European Games and the World Cup tournaments have been held in, or have been awarded to, countries including China, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Belarus and Russia.
All these countries have well-known instances of human-rights abuses. And in the case of Qatar, preparations for the next World Cup have been marred by reports of exploitation and abuse of hundreds of thousands of mostly South Asian migrant workers.
The spotlight and attention that international sporting events provide for these nations means there should also be a focus on their governments and politics.
We must insist that their human-rights record is held up to examination and protest where necessary.
Sporting events have the potential to unite humanity and to promote positive values. They can also provide an opportunity to whitewash a country’s record of unacceptable treatment of people.
We should ensure that awarding a major sporting event to a country is also a time when that nation will be held to account for how well or poorly it contributes to humanity and the wellbeing of its own people.
As we celebrate the achievements of the whole of humanity’s best sports performers, we should also be promoting the best of humanity’s care and compassion for each other.
- Rabbi Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue