Leading Organizations Endorse Aspen Institute’s Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports
Several dozen of the most influential organizations in the sport and nonprofit sectors have officially endorsed the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, drafted by the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program to create a shared cultural understanding about the right of all youth to play and to develop through sports.
Written with the aid of human rights and sports policy experts over the past year, the resource is designed to help leaders – from program operators to policymakers – grow access to sports while establishing minimum conditions under which youth are served.
The Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports (read more about it here) identifies eight rights:
- To play sports
- To safe and healthy environments
- To qualified program leaders
- To developmentally appropriate play
- To share in the planning and delivery of their activities
- To an equal opportunity for personal growth
- To be treated with dignity
- To enjoy themselves
All principles in the statement were informed by a review of, among other domestic and international resources, the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely adopted treaty in the world. The U.S. has signed but not ratified that treaty, which has helped develop children’s rights in sports declarations in other countries.
“This is the era of athlete rights, from the college to Olympic levels,” said Ivan Blumberg, CEO of Athletes for Hope, a nonprofit that helps athletes mobilize around causes that matter to them and a member of the drafting committee for the bill of rights. “But what about the rights of children, the most vulnerable members of our sport ecosystem? We hope this declaration helps close gaps in the availability and quality of sport programs.”
More than 250 athletes from the Athletes for Hope network have called for the adoption of the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, which was released Aug. 12 on United Nations International Youth Day. Other members of the Aspen Institute working group included the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the Power of Sport Lab, and the Center for Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
The athletes are joined by more than 60 organizations from sectors that touch the lives of youth, including: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, YMCA of USA, National Recreation and Park Association, Little League International, ESPN, U.S. Tennis Association, U.S. Soccer Federation, Under Armour, Hospital for Special Surgery, American College of Sports Medicine, UNICEF USA, DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation, MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Fund, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Susan Crown Exchange, TeamSnap, Augusta Sportswear, PGA of America, Sports & Fitness Industry Association, National Lacrosse League, SHAPE America, BOKS, i9 Sports, MOJO, Laureus Sport for Good USA, LeagueApps, USA Baseball, USA Hockey, USA Surfing, U.S. Figure Skating, USA Pentathlon, USA Biathlon, USA Gymnastics. The full list of organizations and athletes endorsing the bill of rights is here.
Many of the signatories are members of Project Play 2024, a roundtable of leading sports, health and philanthropic organizations that aims to help grow sport participation and related metrics among youth. Others are part of the broader network of Project Play, an initiative of the Sports & Society Program which since 2015 has provided thought leadership and tools to build healthy children and communities through sports.
Together, the endorsing athletes and organizations create a platform to lift the quality and quantity of sports activities made available to youth, regardless of their zip code or ability.
“Youth and school sports are a massively disjointed space in this country, with hundreds of thousands of programs serving youth but with no real agreement on the guardrails,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program. “The Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports fills a major gap by defining the baseline experience that every child deserves in the care of adults, aligned with the human rights each of them is born with. It’s also a reminder that we need to make room for every child in this country to play sports.”
Children from low-income homes are half as likely to play sports as their peers from upper-income homes, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association data. Costs are a barrier, as is the quality of experience delivered to many youth. In nearly every sport, the average child quits by age 11, according to an Aspen Institute survey commissioned with the Utah State University’s Families in Sports Lab. By high school, 43% of students no longer played on any team at school or in their community, with only 23% of students meeting the recommended level of physical activity, according to the federal government.
The disruption of COVID-19 has only expanded demographic divides, with disadvantaged youth more slowly returning to play, according to Aspen Institute research.
The Project Play website offers guidance on how the Bill of Rights for Children in Sports can be used by key stakeholders, including grantmakers and sponsors, national sport organizations, parents and caregivers, youth, and policymakers. For community and school sports providers, there is an editable template that can be used to review their policies and practices, improve program quality, and build a reputation as a child-centered program.
On Aug. 20 at noon ET, the Aspen Institute will host a Future of Sports conversation with members of the working group to explore ways to advance the rights of children in sports (register here for the free virtual event). Additional educational and activation opportunities will be announced at the Project Play Summit, a virtual event Oct. 19-20.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“The Children’s Rights in Sports initiative is one of the most important things we can do to expand participation and create a better sports experience for American youth. These rights provide a framework for parents to evaluate programs, guideposts for coaches and administrators to structure their programs, a language for children to empower their participation, and insight for legislators to create meaningful youth sports policy. Every youth sports stakeholder will benefit from adopting a rights approach, and the societal payoff will be felt for decades to come.”
– Dionne Koller, Professor and Director, Center for Sport and the Law, University of Baltimore School of Law
“Creating inclusive pathways to positive, enriching sport participation is fundamental to the Team USA athlete journey, and that begins at the youth level. Every child has the right to discover their full potential, and it’s undeniable that the power of sport and value of play have the ability to transform lives. As we look ahead to LA 2028, the USOPC, in partnership with athletes, National Governing Bodies, other sport organizations and the Aspen Institute, all play a part in envisioning and delivering safe, consistent, positive and universal access to sport to benefit future generations who dream to compete for Team USA.”
– Sarah Hirshland, CEO, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee
“As the National Governing Body for tennis in the U.S., we believe it is essential to be clear to all who participate in youth sport that there are basic needs that we must commit to protect. Whether you are a parent, administrator, coach or provider, it’s our duty to ensure a fair, safe, equitable and fun experience for our kids through sport. We support the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports and are committed to improving and ensuring we always work through the best interest of kids. When we do this, we will see a thriving and healthy youth sports landscape in the U.S.”
– Craig Morris, U.S. Tennis Association Chief Executive, Community Tennis
“As an organization that has dedicated 75 years to supporting children around the world, UNICEF USA is proud to support the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, which is built on the same principles of UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI). CFCI empowers local leaders to take action and prioritize children in order to create a safer, more equitable, and inclusive community for children – including ensuring their right to safe play and leisure. When we invest in meaningful programs for our children and our communities, we create better places for all. And when we empower young people to lead and advocate for their rights, we move closer to a world in which all children’s rights are upheld.”
– Anucha Browne, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, UNICEF USA
“We are proud to support the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports initiative as it closely aligns with TeamSnap’s mission to provide greater access to sport for kids. Since TeamSnap’s founding, we have seen the positive impact youth sports have on children and the negative consequences that show up when they are absent, as most recently validated by our recent study in partnership with the Aspen Institute. We see great value in having a common set of understood objectives for youth play and cannot overstate the importance of memorializing it together as a community that cares about the future for the next generation.”
– Dave DuPont, Founder, TeamSnap
“We are committed at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to reduce barriers, and increase access to play and youth sports in our two regions of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports is an important model for us all to aspire to towards these goals.”
– Jim Boyle, Vice President of Programs & Communications, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation