Basu: Limit human rights violations at major sporting events

Pia Basu, Columnist

Major international sporting events are supposed to foster a sense of friendly competition between nations as well as global unity in gathering citizens from all over the world to be spectators and tourists. However, human rights concerns cast a shadow on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and unless the organizers and sponsors of these events act to limit these violations, these issues will keep coloring future sporting events such as the 2016 Brazil Olympics, the 2018 Russia World Cup, the 2022 Olympics and the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The Olympic Charter clearly states that the International Olympic Committee must strive “to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.” FIFA states that its goal is to “touch, unite and inspire the world through its competitions and events” and that “football can inspire communities and break down barriers.”

These events can bring many different people together and unite them in their love of sports and their respective countries. Both the Olympics and the World Cup allow some of the world’s best to compete while the whole world watches and honors their years of training and commitment. However, there are significant hidden costs as well.

In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Chinese government forcibly evicted people, repressed and detained their critics, as well as curbed the freedom of their press, as reported by Human Rights Watch. HRW also reported that in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, there were more than 2,000 families evicted, tens of thousands of migrant workers exploited, environmental damage and a crackdown on the press by the government.

Perhaps in response to these incidents, in October 2014, Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, introduced human rights provisions into the contract for each host city. In a section titled “Sustainable Human and Environmental Development,” the Committee requires the host city, National Olympic Committee and Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games to “take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”

FIFA and the European and Asian Games should implement similar requirements for their host countries. According to The Guardian, one Nepalese migrant hired to build the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup dies every other day. Despite a supposed government investigation into the South Asian migrants’ labor conditions, hundreds of workers from Nepal, India and Sri Lanka have died from workplace accidents or sudden cardiac arrest, quite possibly due to working in sweltering conditions. FIFA specifically must take steps to improve to ensure that a situation like the one in Qatar is never allowed to happen again.

Countries such as China and Kazakhstan that are vying to host the 2022 Olympics seek to improve the world’s perception of their culture and showcase their wealth, and the privilege of being chosen to host the Olympics is exactly what they are looking for. But both countries have notoriously authoritarian practices: China does not have a good human rights record at all, and Kazakhstan heavily censors reporters. Both these countries’ past human rights violations indicate that it may be difficult for them to comply with the IOC’s new standards.

The IOC has taken a very good first step — one that FIFA and others should emulate — but it remains to be seen how much power the organization really has to stop future transgressions. The real test will come when either China or Kazakhstan secures the title and signs the reformed host city contract for the 2022 Olympics. If the host country disobeys international human rights law, will the IOC retract its bid and the honor that comes along with it?

Pia Basu is a Medill freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].  If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].