Mary Harvey goes from soccer champ to human rights leader

Mary Harvey is used to blazing the trail in sports.

Despite growing up without major soccer tournaments to aspire to play in, the goalkeeper helped the U.S. win the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the first women’s Olympic soccer title five years later.

“As a women’s national team, we didn’t set out to have wide scale impact, but we did,” Harvey recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “From that I learned that that’s what I wanted my life to be about: the ability to impact others in a positive way.”

Today, that desire has made her one of the biggest campaigners for human rights through sports.

After starting her career as a consultant in the private sector, Harvey led development work at FIFA from 2003-08, helping formulate a human rights strategy for the successful 2026 World Cup bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now Harvey will be taking that strategy global by heading a new sports human rights watchdog.

“The language of human rights it not certainly the language of sport,” Harvey said. “So I went through that personally and learned it (for the World Cup bid) and so I think the centre has an opportunity to provide that.”

Harvey is preparing to move to Switzerland from the United States to serve as chief executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, hoping governing bodies adopt some of FIFA’s newfound commitment to making compliance on labour and discrimination issues central to whether a country can host a major event.

The game-changer was Qatar winning the vote to host the 2022 World Cup and the subsequent focus on labour conditions for migrant workers, which led to the energy-rich nation being compelled to provide greater protections. FIFA made bidders for the 2026 edition own up to their human rights risks and present a means of tackling them ahead of the vote this year.

FIFA serves on the Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ advisory board among 41 organizations across sports, along with sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Visa.

“In the future if people are bidding and they’re less than aggressive with what they want to do on the human right side, with maybe a smart box-ticking exercise,” Harvey said. “There should be accountability for that.”

It’s about leveraging the power of a country chasing a mega sports event to encourage changes.

“This isn’t a panacea for nation building,” Harvey said. “We can exert influence.”

That is necessary beyond major events, or high-profile teams.

Afghan authorities suspended the head of the soccer federation and other officials this month after media revelations of allegations of sexual and physical abuse of female players. Harvey hopes the Centre for Sport and Human Rights can be an outlet for athletes, officials or workers around sport to report wrongdoing and have their safety protected.

“Human rights defenders are targets,” Harvey said.

However, the centre still requires investment, she added.

“We can’t operate with any sort of fear of what we say or do and how that affects funding,” Harvey said by telephone. “We have to be able to operate independently and provide a free service.”

The centre was launched in June and is chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, who has also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We need to bring human rights more centrally into sport and make people involved in sport realize that they have to take responsibility and they have to work on many issues at so many different levels from the big stadiums to discrimination or racism or trafficking,” Robinson told the AP.

Using the centre’s status, Robinson will be looking to secure greater protections for local communities impacted by sports events — such as the traders forced to close their stalls near World Cup venues, as Robinson complained to FIFA about during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2014 edition in Brazil.

“I hope they won’t exclude those who you know could actually improve their living by being able to trade around the stadiums and get the footfall on big occasions,” Robinson said.

There are also concerns about how free labour can be relied on to operate events.

“Volunteers can play a role,” Robinson said, “but not if it displaces the potential for people having jobs where the entities can well afford to give people the opportunity to have gainful employment rather than work as volunteers.”

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Rob Harris, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“Our members have decided they just can’t do this anymore. We’ve protected this province and you’ve treated us like dirt, so enough is enough,” says AUPE vice-president Bonnie Gostola, whose members protested outside the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on Momday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Updated: Hospital workers strike in Red Deer

Some surgeries and ambulatory care clinics postponed around the province

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre could be affected by cuts to Alberta Health Services announced by the government Tuesday. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
David Marsden: Yes, we know how to do laundry

Union leaders would have us believe there’s something special about their members:… Continue reading

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
Removing Molly Banister extension makes no sense

Re: “Removing road extension would be ‘terrible,’ says former city manager,” Oct.… Continue reading

jj
NDP is certain to tire of propping up Trudeau’s Liberals

To impose his will on the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin… Continue reading

Mariah Bell of the United States competes during women’s freestyle program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Canadian Keegan Messing earns bronze at Skate America in Vegas, Chen wins gold

Messing earns 266.42 points at Skate America in Las Vegas

In this Oct. 7, 2020 photo, chef Sohla El-Waylly prepares Swedish meatballs during a taping of “Stump Sohla,” in New York. El-Waylly became a familiar face on YouTube as a standout on Bon Appetit’s test kitchen channel. But during the nationwide racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, she was among members of the test kitchen who accused the channel’s owner, Conde Nast, of discriminatory practices. She departed Bon Appetit in August after failed negotiations. Her new show is her own, pushing her to deploy her talent, charm and encyclopedic culinary chops to solve challenges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
‘Babish’ expands as pandemic boosts YouTube cooking shows

Daily views of videos with “cook with me” soaring

Most Read