Maria Ochoa-Llidó, Deputy to the Director of Human Rights and Anti-discrimination, Head of Social Cohesion and Diversity Department, Directorate General II (Democracy), Council of Europe
was born in Madrid and brought up in Belgium and the Netherlands. She has a degree in Pharmacy and started working at the Council of Europe (in 1984) in the Public Health field and at the European Pharmacopoeia where she participated in the activities against doping in sports. Over the years, she has managed different departments in the migration, education and social affairs fields and is now Deputy to the Director of Human Rights and Anti-discrimination. In that capacity, she supervises the activities of the newly created LGBT Unit and that of the pan-European programme promoting diversity and fighting against discrimination in and through sport. This programme covers all grounds of discrimination (i.e. discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, etc.)

Opening speech

First of all I would like to thank the co-organisers of this conference and in particular Louise Englefied from EGLSF and Željko Blaće from qSPORT and thank HBS Croatia for their support.

Let me extend my warm thanks to the Croatian authorities who are participating and in particular to Kresimir Samija from the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports. Our conference today addresses hotly debated issues and it is a very positive political signal that public authorities from several countries of the region are taking part in it.

I recently heard John Amaechi saying that stereotypes and discriminatory speech about LGBT in sport have a lower threshold than those about black people. That is exactly what I am used to see in the Roma context. Phrases such as “I’m not a racist, I treat black people as humans beings and not as Gypsies” or ‘She’s good in sports, she must be a Lesbian’ are still too frequent.

That is why the CoE deals with discrimination in general and homophobia in sports in particular.

Fighting discrimination and intolerance are at the core of CoE’s mandate and action. Just 2 weeks ago in Helsinki the Eminent Persons’ Report, called ‘Living Together’ was discussed by the Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland with President Halonen of Finland and the presidents of Italy, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Hungary and Slovenia.

A group of nine distinguished experts, academics and former politicians prepared this report last year, for the Council of Europe to take stock of the challenges arising from the resurgence of intolerance and discrimination in Europe. Their task was to analyse "the threat" and to propose a "response" for living together in open European societies The Living Together report clearly argues that ifEurope wants to remain a region of peace and prosperity, we have to embrace diversity.

This diversity must be based on equality before the law, respect for human rights and the sharing of rights and obligations in our societies. The fight against racism and intolerance is the red thread for the report in which Racism is understood in a broad sense and covers different groups, including LGBT.

The CoE is also the first political organisation to adopt a recommendation to member states on measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This is an important achievement, being the first legal instrument in the world dealing specifically with one of the most long-lasting and difficult forms of discrimination to combat.

Recommendation (2010) 5 draws on existing standards in international legal instruments, in particular the European Convention ofHuman Rights, and will advance the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

The recommendation has a specific chapter on sport which says for instance: “Sport activities and facilities should be open to all without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, effective measures should be taken to prevent, counteract and punish the use of discriminatory insults with reference to sexual orientation or gender identity during and in connection with sports events”.

This recommendation is the legal basis for the newly created (October 2011) Unit to deal with LGBT issues in my Directorate. The objective of this Unit is to co-operate with member states in their efforts to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, in line with CM/Rec (2010)5. This includes not only awareness-raising activities but also training of specific target groups and reviews of national legal frameworks.

But this new unit is not to work on its own. The protection of basic human rights of LGBTs is a transversal issue that requires concerted efforts from different sectors, including sport. Transversality is a reality since sport now belongs to the Antidiscrimination and human rights Directorate together with the new LGBT Unit.

So, transversality is a key word. The CoE has conceived and implements its work against racism and discrimination as a transversal dimension of its action. This is why many CoE bodies are contributing, e.g. the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, the education sector, the social cohesion sector but also the programme on children’s rights or the Gender Equality Unit.

What’s more, several entities in the Council have developed specific activities within their field of action, such as the Media. In relation to the white paper on intercultural dialogue recommendations, the Council of Europe implemented recently a joint programme with the EU linking the media diversity and non discrimination and sport dimensions. This 2011-12 programme entitled MARS – Media against racism in sport (with the wider understanding of racism explained previously), – aims at making non discrimination and expression of diversity as usual and sustained angles of media coverage. EPAS is a partner of this transversal 2-year programme and my colleague, Reynald Blion, will explain to you all you need to know about this programme during the workshop “Writing on Sport”.

Turning now to sport, why is it important that EPAS/the Council of Europe deal with homophobia in sport? Because sport is an important part of the life of the vast majority of European citizens (at all age, in different structures/clubs or individually) and it is a fantastic opportunity to get to know the other and overcome barriers and prejudices.

As mentioned in the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the LGBT recommendation, and I quote: “Sport can play a key role in social integration and in the promotion of tolerance and respect for diversity in society. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are often at a disadvantage when it comes to participation in sports activities both in regular sports organisations and atschool. Homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in sports, both among participants and in their relations with spectators, are, like racism and other forms of discrimination, unacceptable and should be combated.”

For decades the Council of Europe has been active in promoting diversity and fighting discrimination in sport. It has done so in two different directions: on the one hand through the adoption of sport policies, to ensure that the values defended by the Council of Europe are respected in the sport practice (everyone has the right to practice sport, whatever his ethnic origin, gender, ability/disability, religion, sexual orientation, etc).

On the other hand, the Council of Europe seeks to promote and protect these values (human rights, fair play, and respect for diversity) through sport.

And in this case sport is a powerful tool to promote these ideals.

Before I conclude let me tell you that today’s conference is very timely since one of the priorities of the current CoE UK Chairmanship concerns the rights of LGBT people in Europe and, to mark the importance of human rights for LGBT persons as a human rights priority of its Chairmanship, the United Kingdom is organizing an important event in Strasbourg on 27 March 2012.
Zeljko qSPORT,
Mar 10, 2012, 11:43 AM