International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach gestures during a news conference in Lausanne July on 9, 2014.

(Lausanne) – The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include human rights protections in future host city contracts is a positive step to combat a set of serious rights violations linked to Olympics in Beijing and Sochi, Human Rights Watch said today. Olympic Host city contracts have generally been secret, and have never before expressly included rights protections.

Human Rights Watch outlined the need for contract reforms in a formal submission to the “Olympic Agenda 2020” session to be held in Monaco in December, along with 40 colleague rights groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, AllOut, Human Rights Campaign, and Athlete Ally.

 “For years repressive governments have brazenly broken the Olympic Charter and the promises they made to host the Olympics," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. "This reform should give teeth to the lofty Olympic language that sport can be 'a force for good.'"

This practical move to uphold the Olympic Charter's promises of "human dignity" and "non-discrimination" was presented in a meeting between IOC President Thomas Bach and Human Rights Watch at the IOC’s Lausanne headquarters, on October 21. It follows a September IOC announcement that future host city contracts will include an anti-discrimination clause—a reform in response to Russia’s passing an anti-LGBT law in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Human Rights Watch said that the reform is an important step forward, but that implementation will be key, especially with repressive governments of China and Kazakhstan as finalists to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Making the host city contracts public and transparent is also an important step Human Rights Watch has long pressed for.

Before and during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Human Rights Watch documented serious rights violations that marred the Olympics. These included the abuse of migrant workers involved in constructing Olympic venues and other preparations for  the Games, restrictions on media freedom, closing space for independent groups to operate, and jailing of activists.  Human Rights Watch has also documented Saudi Arabia’s continuing discrimination against female athletes, which violates the Olympic Charter.

The changes to the host city contract will be included in a section titled “Sustainable Human and Environmental Development.” The new text requires the host city, National Olympic Committee (NOC) and Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (OCOG) 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.”

This new language will signify that future Olympic host countries and cities are contractually required, for example, to respect the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights along with international labor laws in relation to key freedoms.

Organizers of other international mega-sporting events such as the Asian Games, the new European Games, and the World Cup, administered by the soccer body FIFA, should take immediate steps to include human rights protections in their own host city contracts, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch will continue to provide the IOC and the public with updated research on rights conditions in host contenders.

“The International Olympic Committee’s decision to include human rights protections in future host city contracts raises the bar for all sports federations,” Worden said. “This is a sign of changing times in global sport. FIFA and other international sports federations should immediately follow the IOC's lead.”