When sports falls in love with dictatorships

Human rights isn’t on the agenda in sports federations.

When sports falls in love with dictatorships
Drawing: Vladimir Kazanevsky/Children Win

Big sports are all about athletes competing. About people cheering. About humans enjoying life. It is sheer pleasure. Or is it?
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC, ed.) and the sports federations point to a host for a major sport event it is big business. It’s a great fairy tale where a host must provide the best framework for a play that thrills the World and gets cool cash to the Sports World. It is there the countries come in. The countries that want to use sport to brand a nation and a regime. And the trend in the real world is that authoritarian regimes are bidding heavily to host international sporting events to improve their image at home and abroad. They can spend exorbitant amounts of public funds largely unchecked, for example without regard for social rights, human rights and environmental concerns – while democratic states have to explain whether the rising costs associated with mega-events are worth the risk.

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The sports federations are a willing partner for the authoritarian regimes – despite human rights and despite dictatorships.
50 percent of the big sport events in the coming years in five big sports and the Olympics are going to take place in nations where regimes violate basic human rights – despite the Olympic Charter telling us otherwise (see box, ed.).

No political agenda

This is shown in an analysis Sport Executive made for the Olympics and the World Championships in athletics, cycling, football, gymnastics and swimming. But as Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), tells Sport Executive when he explains why Aserbaijan hosted the first European Games in 2015:
“The EOC will not seek to impose any political agenda on a sovereign state or society. However, we have sought and received the assurance from the authorities in Azerbaijan that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be protected throughout the European Games. These were the only criteria the EOC considered when selecting Baku as the host city of the European Games because they are the only criteria that the EOC, as a sports organisation, is qualified to consider.”

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IOC President Thomas Bach says the same in a letter to Human Rights Watch, dated 15 July 2015:
“As a sporting organization, we are not in a position to dictate the wider laws of any sovereign nation. This is not our role. Our role is that when it comes to evaluate Candidate Cities and to elect Host Cities, we have the necessary guarantees that there is no discrimination of any kind at the Games.”
According to Thomas Bach’s words: That must be the case in Aserbaijan, China, Qatar, Russia and Brazil?
Or?

Sports is complicit in abuses

Non-governmental organisations apparently have a different view:
“International sports federations should require human rights impact assessments as part of the bid process and should also set up mechanisms to conduct meaningful, transparent monitoring of human rights in the course of countries’ preparations and hosting of events,” Jane Buchanan, director of the European and Central Asia Division in Human Rights Watch, says to Sport Executive.

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“We have documented serious abuses linked to major sporting events in numerous countries in recent years, including Russia, China and Qatar at the same time an increasing number of repressive governments who host mega sporting events to burnish their reputations on the world stage. International sports federations are crucially placed to insist that host countries respect human rights throughout the preparations and hosting of sporting events. If they don’t set clear, nonnegotiable expectations in terms of human rights, sports federations seriously risk being complicit in abuses,” Jane Buchanan concludes.

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READ THE FULL STATS OF SPORTS FEDERATIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SEPTEMBER IN SPORT EXECUTIVE

BIG SPORT EVENTS

BIG SPORT EVENTS

THE OLYMPIC GAMES:

2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

2018: Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.

2020: Tokyo, Japan.

2022: Beijing, China.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS:

ATHLETICS:

2015: China.

2017: England.

2019: Qatar.

2021: USA.

CYCLING ROAD:

2015: USA.

2016: Qatar.

2017: Norway.

FOOTBALL MEN:

2018: Russia.

2022: Qatar.

ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS:

2015: Scotland.

2017: Canada.

2018: Qatar.

SWIMMING LONG COURSE:

2015: Russia.

2017:Hungary.

2019: Republic of Korea.

Sources: IOC and the International Sports Federations.

HUMAN RIGHTS

BRAZIL:

Democracy plagued with political corruption, economic crisis and poverty. At least 20,000 people have been forced out of their homes in the Favelas before the Olympics in Rio. Other issues: Police brutality, torture in prisons, lack of freedom of expression, discrimination against sexual minorities, forced and child labour and so on.

CHINA:

Dictatorship – and systematically curbs fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion and so on.

QATAR:

Dictatorship – violates systematically all fundamental human rights, including modern slavery.

RUSSIA:

Democracy – violates systematically all fundamental human rights, including occupation of Crimea and support to insurgents in eastern Ukraine.