The International Olympic Committee and human rights reforms: game changer or mere window dressing?

Abstract

In the past few years, the International Olympic Committee has increasingly neglected other than commercial aspects of the Olympic Games. As a consequence, some of the latest editions of the Games were awarded to cities that turned out to be either unable or unwilling to respect and protect human rights of local citizens and other individuals contributing in one way or another to the successful delivery of the Games. One of the reasons why these cities and other entities involved in hosting and staging the Games failed to uphold human rights was that the International Olympic Committee did not explicitly require them to do so. This changed in February 2017 when, following the adoption of the Olympic Agenda 2020 in December 2014, explicit human rights obligations were finally added to the Host City Contract for the 2024 Games. This paper critically examines the International Olympic Committee’s human rights reforms, with a particular focus on the Host City Contract as the core legal document regulating the execution of the Games. It identifies several weaknesses and proposes solutions that could help reduce adverse human rights impacts of the Games. While welcoming the International Olympic Committee’s awareness of human rights risks related to the execution of the Games, the author of this paper remains sceptical that the reforms carried out to date will produce tangible results anytime soon.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Global Broadcast and Audience Report from the Olympic Games Rio 2016, p. 2. See also London 2012 Olympic Games Global Broadcast Report, p. 4.

  2. 2.

    Olympic Charter, Rule 7.2.

  3. 3.

    For example, in reaction to the infamous Salt Lake City corruption scandal that broke out in late 1998, the IOC established the Ethics Commission and carried out certain reforms to its host selection process. See Mallon (2000).

  4. 4.

    IOC, IOC Session unanimously approves Olympic Agenda 2020, 8 December 2014. https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-session-unanimously-approves-olympic-agenda-2020. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  5. 5.

    The 2022 HCC between the IOC on the one hand, and the City of Beijing and the Chinese Olympic Committee on the other hand, was executed on 31 July 2015 in Kuala Lumpur.

  6. 6.

    Owen Gibson, IOC attacked by human rights groups over Olympics Host City Contract, 25 September 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/sep/25/ioc-human-rights-host-city-olympic-games. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  7. 7.

    IOC, IOC strengthens its stance in favour of human rights and against corruption in new Host City Contract, 28 February 2017. https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-strengthens-its-stance-in-favour-of-human-rights-and-against-corruption-in-new-host-city-contract. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  8. 8.

    IOC, IOC makes historic decision by simultaneously awarding Olympic Games 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles, 13 September 2017. https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-makes-historic-decision-by-simultaneously-awarding-olympic-games-2024-to-paris-and-2028-to-los-angeles. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  9. 9.

    John Ruggie, “For the Game. For the World”. FIFA and Human Rights, April 2016. https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/centers/mrcbg/programs/cri/files/Ruggie_humanrightsFIFA_reportApril2016.pdf. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  10. 10.

    ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, Article 2.

  11. 11.

    UDHR, Article 23.

  12. 12.

    ICCPR, Articles 8, 22 and 26.

  13. 13.

    ICESCR, Articles 2 and 8.

  14. 14.

    ECHR, Articles 4, 11 and 14.

  15. 15.

    ICESCR, Article 7.

  16. 16.

    Human Rights Watch (2008, pp. 22, 39).

  17. 17.

    Ibid. at 42.

  18. 18.

    Human Rights Watch (2013, p. 37).

  19. 19.

    CESCR General Comment No. 7, para. 3.

  20. 20.

    Ibid. paras. 13, 16.

  21. 21.

    Ibid. para. 14.

  22. 22.

    Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (2007, p. 154).

  23. 23.

    Bruce Douglas, Brazil officials evict families from homes ahead of 2016 Olympic Games, 28 October 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/28/brazil-officials-evicting-families-2016-olympic-games. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  24. 24.

    Gauthier (2017, p. 90).

  25. 25.

    ICCPR, Article 19(2)(3).

  26. 26.

    Ibid. Article 21.

  27. 27.

    Human Rights Watch, China: Media freedom under assault ahead of 2008 Olympics, 31 May 2007. https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/05/31/china-media-freedom-under-assault-ahead-2008-olympics. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  28. 28.

    Kathy Lally, Outside the Olympics, pressure on gay Russians grows, 16 February 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/olympics/outside-the-olympics-pressure-on-gay-russians-grows/2014/02/16/288a944c-90e7-11e3-b227-12a45d109e03_story.html?utm_term=.6d34e751d24a. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  29. 29.

    It is of note that the silver medallist Peter Norman from Australia supported this black power salute by wearing a badge on his chest that read 'Olympic Project for Human Rights'. Established in 1967, the Olympic Project for Human Rights was an organisation aimed at combating racism in the world of sport. See James Montague, The third man: The forgotten black power hero, 25 April 2012. https://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/24/sport/olympics-norman-black-power/index.html. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  30. 30.

    Gary Younge, The man who raised a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games, 30 March 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/30/black-power-salute-1968-olympics. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  31. 31.

    Mark James and Guy Osborn, IOC rules at Sochi go too far with ban on black armbands, 21 February 2014. http://theconversation.com/ioc-rules-at-sochi-go-too-far-with-ban-on-black-armbands-23555. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  32. 32.

    See Faut (2014). See also Lindholm (2017).

  33. 33.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 3.1.

  34. 34.

    Ibid. Article 3.3.

  35. 35.

    Ibid. Article 17.1.

  36. 36.

    Ibid. Article 1.1.

  37. 37.

    Ibid. Article 51.1.

  38. 38.

    Ibid. Article 51.2.

  39. 39.

    Ibid. Article 2.

  40. 40.

    Ibid. Article 4.1.

  41. 41.

    In practice, an Olympic Delivery Authority might operate under different names.

  42. 42.

    James and Osborn (2011, pp. 419–420).

  43. 43.

    Gauthier (2017, pp. 65–66).

  44. 44.

    Olympic Charter, Rule 7.2.

  45. 45.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 13.1.

  46. 46.

    Ibid. Article 27.1. See also Olympic Charter, Rule 37.

  47. 47.

    Geeraert and Gauthier (2018, p. 25).

  48. 48.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 27.2. See also Olympic Charter, Bye-law to Rule 37.

  49. 49.

    Ibid.

  50. 50.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 38.2(d).

  51. 51.

    Ibid. Article 38.3(a).

  52. 52.

    Ibid. Article 38.3(b).

  53. 53.

    Ibid. Article 8.2(c). The General Retention Fund constitutes five percent (5%) of “any sums of money or equivalent value-in-kind payable to the OCOG in relation to the International Programme”. It is controlled by the IOC.

  54. 54.

    Ibid. Article 36.2(a)(b).

  55. 55.

    Adam Taylor, Why Sochi is by far the most expensive Olympics ever, 17 January 2014. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-sochi-is-by-far-the-most-expensive-olympics-ever-2014-1?IR=T. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  56. 56.

    Agenda 2020, Recommendation 1.5.

  57. 57.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 15.2(b).

  58. 58.

    Ibid. Article 15.1.

  59. 59.

    Agenda 2020, Recommendations 1.6., 1.7., 1.10.

  60. 60.

    Ibid. Recommendation 1.9.

  61. 61.

    2022 Host City Contract, Preamble (L.).

  62. 62.

    Ibid. Article 21.

  63. 63.

    Agenda 2020, Recommendation 1.5.

  64. 64.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 13.2(b).

  65. 65.

    In addition, we might also speak of those human rights norms that have acquired customary international law status, and are thus binding upon all States.

  66. 66.

    As explained in the commentary to Principle 12, the International Bill of Human Rights consists of the UDHR and the main instruments through which it has been ratified, namely the ICCPR and the ICESCR. The commentary to Principle 12 further suggests that the ILO's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work should not be interpreted in isolation from the eight ILO core conventions.

  67. 67.

    UEFA Euro 2024 Tournament Requirements, Sector 03—Political, Social and Environmental Aspects, p. 5.

  68. 68.

    Annex 1 to the template Bidding Registration regarding the submission of Bids for the hosting and staging of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. This enlarged scope of internationally recognised human rights might encompass, inter alia, the United Nations instruments on the rights of indigenous peoples, women, children, persons with disabilities, migrant workers and their families, or national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. As regards the relation between internationally recognised human rights and locally recognised human rights, see FIFA's Human Rights Policy, para. 7.

  69. 69.

    The Universal Declaration of Player Rights came to life in December 2017. Developed under the aegis of the World Players Association, the Declaration is a landmark document aimed at enhancing the protection of athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. See UNI Global Union, World Players Association launches Universal Declaration of Player Rights, 14 December 2017. http://www.uniglobalunion.org/news/world-players-association-launches-universal-declaration-player-rights. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  70. 70.

    The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 could be considered a prime example of such domestic legislation. See James and Osborn (2016). See also James and Osborn (2011).

  71. 71.

    For instance, in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, FIFA instructed Brazil to enact the well-known 'Budweiser Law'—a law allowing beer sales at match venues despite the fact that the sale of alcohol had been prohibited in Brazil's stadiums for almost 10 years. See BBC News, Brazil World Cup beer law signed by President Rousseff, 6 June 2012. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-18348012. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  72. 72.

    See Meier and García (2015).

  73. 73.

    Geeraert and Gauthier (2018, p. 25).

  74. 74.

    Gauthier (2017, p. 142).

  75. 75.

    SFT, Gundel v. FEI (4P.217/1992) Decision of 15 March 1993. CAS Digest I, pp. 561-575. See also Blackshaw (2013).

  76. 76.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Articles 38.2 and 38.3.

  77. 77.

    Geeraert and Gauthier (2018, p. 26).

  78. 78.

    Ibid.

  79. 79.

    Ibid.

  80. 80.

    Ibid.

  81. 81.

    Commonwealth Games Federation, Statement on 2022 Commonwealth Games, 13 March 2017. https://us2.campaign-archive.com/?u=f10a798540c235ff87d5c474b&id=1600597af9. Accessed 15 January 2018. See also Mark Gleeson, Durban loses right to host 2022 Commonwealth Games, 13 March 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-games-commonwealth-durban/durban-loses-right-to-host-2022-commonwealth-games-idUSKBN16K1UN. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  82. 82.

    2024 Host City Contract—Principles, Article 36.2(a)(b).

  83. 83.

    FIFA, Independent advisory board of human rights experts to meet on 13 March, 10 March 2017. http://www.fifa.com/governance/news/y=2017/m=3/news=independent-advisory-board-of-human-rights-experts-to-meet-on-13-march-2875485.html. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  84. 84.

    See Matt Wilson, Coca-Cola, Visa, Adidas release statements on Qatar World Cup, 22 May 2015. https://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/CocaCola_Visa_Adidas_release_statements_on_Qatar_W_18706.aspx. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  85. 85.

    Mega-Sporting Events Platform for Human Rights, Diverse coalition commits to establishing Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018, 30 November 2017. https://www.ihrb.org/megasportingevents/mse-news/coalition-commitment-centre-sport-human-rights-2018. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  86. 86.

    IOC, IOC launches a new approach to the candidature process for the Olympic Winter Games 2026, 17 October 2017. https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-launches-a-new-approach-to-the-candidature-process-for-the-olympic-winter-games-2026. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  87. 87.

    Brian Blickenstaff, Nobody wants to host the Olympics, 13 November 2014. https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/mgyne8/nobody-wants-to-host-the-olympics. Accessed 15 January 2018. See also Lisa Abend, Why nobody wants to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, 3 October 2014. http://time.com/3462070/olympics-winter-2022/. Accessed 15 January 2018.

  88. 88.

    Candidature Process for the Olympic Winter Games 2026, p. 4.

  89. 89.

    Candidature Questionnaire for the Olympic Winter Games 2026, Section 6—Guarantees, pp. 86, 88.

  90. 90.

    For instance, bidders shall describe how they would “create healthy working environments and promote diversity across the workforce, including gender equality”. See Candidature Questionnaire for the Olympic Winter Games 2026, Section 4—Sustainability and Legacy, p. 38.

  91. 91.

    Gauthier (2016), p. 57.

  92. 92.

    UEFA Euro 2024 Bid Dossier Template, Sector 03—Political, Social and Environmental Aspects, p. 5.

  93. 93.

    Structure, Content, Presentation, Format and Delivery of Bid Book for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Section 23—Human Rights and Labour Standards.

  94. 94.

    Ibid.

  95. 95.

    UEFA, Germany and Turkey receive bid requirements for hosting UEFA Euro 2024, 1 May 2017. http://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/mediaservices/newsid=2463164.html?redirectFromOrg=true. Accessed 15 January 2018.

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Grell, T. The International Olympic Committee and human rights reforms: game changer or mere window dressing?. Int Sports Law J 17, 160–169 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40318-018-0127-x

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Keywords

  • International Olympic Committee
  • Olympic Games
  • Human rights
  • Agenda 2020
  • Host city contract
  • United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights