This is a right guaranteed to them, as citizens and individuals, under international human rights law. At FIFPRO, we are committed to protect the fundamental rights of players worldwide.
Professional footballers have a valuable opportunity to leave a positive and lasting mark on their sport and society, as already shown by athlete activists for decades. In the 1970s, Billie Jean King fought for equal prize money for men and women at tennis Grand Slams, a fight the U.S. Women’s National Team has continued in football.
The American World Cup-winning players of 1999 who campaigned for recognition and equality are among the activist celebrated in the FIFPRO Gallery.
In recent years, players have gained an even stronger foothold as global influencers, thanks to their reach through social media and their approach to issues that go beyond sport. Numerous footballers from different backgrounds, such as Megan Rapinoe and Marcus Rashford, have spoken out against discrimination and in favour of equality and fair conditions in their sport and society. They have shown that footballers have the power to enable positive change for their communities.
Nevertheless, regulations that limit the freedom of speech of athletes are still in place. One example is Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which covers all disciplines including men’s and women football competitions. FIFPRO is strongly opposed to this International Olympic Committee regulation which restricts the right of footballers to peaceful protest during the Games.
In July 2021, the IOC made some concessions to ease Rule 50’s restrictions on athletes before or after an event but continues to prohibit athlete self-expression during competition and at the medal ceremony. Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPRO General Secretary, said: "It is hypocritical and unacceptable for sports event organizers to champion the role of strong athletes and personalities in society but then say: ‘if you do this in our venues it is an offence that can be sanctioned’.”
In professional football, a number of disciplinary codes also impede players from speaking up about social issues while on the pitch. For example, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) ‘Law 4: The Players’ Equipment’ says that players “must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer's logo.”
We believe this law must be amended to permit messages about humanitarian values and fully endorse the actions of various football competition organizers in overlooking this rule recently when players have shown anti-racism messages, and other slogans supporting human rights.
Under article 14 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code a club could be fined and have to forfeit a match if its team leaves the pitch before the end. FIFPRO believes that players should be able to freely walk off the pitch when they or their teammates face discrimination. In line with international standards on human rights, they have the right to work in an environment without violence and harassment.
Free speech and peaceful protest are fundamental rights for footballers and allow them to play an important role in promoting a fair and equal society.