Written by Lena Fuldauer, Summer Intern
Now that the hype over the World Cup is over, one can take a look back at what has happened over the last weeks and what it takes to manage a high profile international tournament such as the World Cup in Brazil. We’ve certainly seen plenty of pictures of teams celebrating , fans cheering in the background and global leaders congratulating world class players. But there is another side of the tournament often overlooked in the hype and joy of watching the best countries competing against each other. In fact, the preparations to the World Cup in Brazil have been blighted by months of demonstrations and grievances, with claims of police abuse, forced labour and lack of consultation of affected communities (Source: Human Rights Resource Centre). But sadly, the World Cup in Brazil is not the only example where human rights abuses have taken place in preparation for major sporting events.
From racism, sexual harassment and corruption to exploiting workers building venues – human rights issues and sports are very closely connected. This blog will consider the principal human rights issues in major sport events in regards to land, procurement, construction and security.
Land: Acquisition and Housing Rights
With any major sporting event, different stakeholders have different, often incompatible requests in terms of land. Governments aim to create landmark monuments, developers seek to build new, large facilities and families don’t want their lives to be disrupted in any way by moving to a different place. While the acquisition of land can certainly have positive impacts in terms of economic development and poverty reduction (the 2004 Olympic Village in Athens for example benefitted 10.000 residents), it also has many negative facets, as governments often use force to take over land from small families or businesses (Source: Human Rights in Mega Sporting Events). Just to give an example, before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta 30.000 people were forcibly displaced. These issues continue. UN Special Rapporteur made investigations about housing rights in the 2014 Brazil World Cup and proclaims: “As soon as the decision is made to build infrastructure in areas previously occupied by these communities, the communities are evicted without any kind of resettlement and with very small financial compensation (…)” (Source: Conectas).
Supplies for major sporting events are usually selected based on cost and deadline considerations, while sustainability issues including human rights are not taken into account. This leads to many human right abuses around supply chains, as featured in many media and NGO campaigns. These range from labour rights abuses, such as discrimination and harassment taking place in unscreened suppliers’ factories or children being forced to make clothes and stitch footballs for FIFA events.. But who is to blame for this? Is it the host governments, events organisers (in this case, FIFA) or the companies themselves? The problem is that the supplier’s working conditions and standards can easily be controlled at the point of entry to the construction, but it is difficult for events organisers to influence any outcomes 3 or 4 tiers of suppliers further down the chain, who are also vulnerable to having their rights abused (Source: Human Rights in Mega Sporting Events). This highlights the importance of integrating human rights criteria into the procurement practices at the outset of major sporting events so that companies are forced to improve their supply chain management in order to become an official sponsor or supplier.
While the construction period itself can certainly contribute to economic and social development, the time period to complete the projects does not allow for delays. This can have tragic consequences. Even though the right to decent working conditions is embedded in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR Article 7), which comprises the right to a fair wage, healthy and safe working conditions and no excessive working hours, this right is often neglected. But the abuses of such rights are not the only human rights in relation to construction. Migrant workers are often denied basic legal protection: their passports are confiscated, they work without contracts or they are at risk of human trafficking due to debt-bondage (Source: Human Rights in Mega Sporting Events). In merely three month in 2013, 33 Nepalese migrant workers reportedly died in the preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, many due to accidents or heart failure in the heat (For more information see Guardian article). This raises the question to what extent we can continue supporting major sporting events such as the World Cup if such issues are not addressed. For more discussion around health and safety concerns during the construction stages of these events take a look at an earlier blog we published here.
Whether it is preventing terrorist attacks, handling violent encounters and ensuring safe entry to and from the venues – security issues and their impacts on human rights are critical throughout the lifecycle of any sporting event. Both the host government and local organisers have the responsibility to consider human rights impacts into security planning for sporting events. While certain standards exist to support local organisers and security providers in addressing security issues (such as the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights), it is often difficult for host governments to implement these, as security is a state subject and host governments do not control security at regional or local levels. Nevertheless, in the world we live in we should not be witness to incidents such as violent encounters between the police and street protestors as was the case during the mass demonstrations during the Brazil World Cup 2014. Not only are people getting injured, they are being intimidated and made to feel vulnerable at the hands of the state. (Source: The Guardian). Thus it is pivotal that security in major sporting events is treated with utmost importance so that such incidents can be prevented.
There are certainly many human rights issues raised in relation major sport events which need to be addressed jointly by host governments, events organisers and other facilitators. The games already have global attention -there also should be global attention paid to the human rights issues linked to these games. But in order for change to happen and improve how human rights are protected at big sport events, we need to continue questioning, criticising and asking what is going on behind the colourful, smiling faces that appear on TV when we watch the next big sport event.
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