The state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta have always had global sports ambitions.
From the time the country’s first NCAA D1 football stadium was built there in 1913, to the 1996 Summer Olympics and three Super Bowls, Atlanta has sought to be an epicentre of the sports world. Given the growing number of athletes using their voices to champion racial justice and LGBT justice, the city’s rich civil rights history also makes it an ideal setting for convening athletes and fans from around the world with a shared love of sports.
But bills have been introduced in the Georgia legislature, slated for a Senate hearing this week, that target trans youth to restrict their participation in sport, based on their sex assigned at birth, and to deprive them of gender-affirming health care.
And if the state legislature passes them, openly discriminating against transgender youth who want to participate in sports, it may harm Atlanta’s hopes to be a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
In 2018, the United States, Canada, and Mexico jointly submitted their successful ‘United 2026′ bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Atlanta is one of 17 US cities competing for 10 host city spots in the US. As part of the bidding process, the US was required to disclose any human rights risks, and a plan of action for addressing them.
Human Rights Watch worked closely with FIFA to guide this process, with the idea that states could raise the bar for human rights protections, and be competitive on that basis.
But if Georgia passes discriminatory laws, Atlanta could find its hosting ambitions sidelined.
FIFA’s landmark Human Rights Policy pledges to “create a discrimination-free environment within its organisation and throughout all of its activities” and declares that “FIFA Statutes prohibit discrimination of any kind”— including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity .
Even without the anti-trans law, Georgia’s lack of antidiscrimination protections is alarming, and causes major concern about Atlanta’s aspirations as a host city.
According to Georgia Equality, Georgia is one of only five states in the whole country that has no state law protecting people from discrimination in public accommodations. It would strengthen Georgia’s commitment to human rights — and Atlanta’s viability as a host city — if the state enacted such protections, including laws to protect athletes, fans, Georgians, and visitors from around the world from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other grounds.
As it stands now, Atlanta faces steep competition for a host city spot. Many of its competitors – including New York City, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles – are in states with non-discrimination laws that cover public accommodations. Many of them explicitly prohibit, or are interpreted to prohibit, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity
It has been a challenging time for so many across the United States, and in Georgia. Atlanta has an opportunity to once again be in the global sports spotlight, while also bringing much-needed tourism dollars and business to the state, by hosting the largest-ever soccer World Cup.
Ensuring all LGBT Georgians are free to be who they are is the best way to honour the resilience of the city today, and the dream of an inclusive future worth cheering for.
-Minky Worden – Director of Global Initiatives, Human Rights Watch