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Olympics: New Alliance Calls for Rights-Respecting Bids

Future IOC Standards Should Be Binding, Not ‘Based on Goodwill’

(Berlin) – All Olympic host countries should ensure protection of human rights, including labor and free media protections, and implement anti-corruption measures in the lead-up to and during Olympic Games, the new Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA) said today ahead of a key meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week. 

The IOC Executive Committee will meet in Rio de Janeiro from February 26-28, 2015, to discuss implementation of Agenda 2020, its “strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement,” passed in December 2014. The IOC’s adopted agenda requires Olympic host countries to respect anti-discrimination measures and labor standards, improve transparency, and promote good governance. 

“Too often major sports events have seen people forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for infrastructure, workers exploited, campaigners locked up, the environment damaged beyond repair and notoriously opaque bidding processes,” the letter to IOC President Thomas Bach said. “The recommendations in the IOC’s Agenda 2020 are a chance to change that and ensure human rights, the environment and anti-corruption measures are central to all stages of the Olympic Games, from bidding, through to the development and delivery phase to final reporting.” 

The SRA is a new coalition of leading human rights and sports groups, as well as trade unions, including: Amnesty International, FIFPro – World Players’ Union, Football Supporters Europe, Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, Supporters Direct Europe, Terre des Hommes, and Transparency International Germany. They seek to ensure mega-sporting events respect human rights (including children’s and labor rights), the environment, and anti-corruption requirements at all stages of the process – from bidding through construction, preparations to host events, and the hosting of the events themselves. 

The initiative comes as the IOC prepares for the close of bid registration for the 2024 Olympic Games in September 2015 and ahead of the inaugural European Games in June in Baku, Azerbaijan, a country with at least 20 prisoners of conscience, according to Amnesty International. Dozens of government critics, including leading journalists and human rights defenders, have been detained or imprisoned on trumped-up charges in recent months. 

The SRA outreach to the IOC follows global concern about Russia’s record on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, workers’ rights, forced evictions, environmental protection, and freedom of expression in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, forced evictions in Brazil ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, as well as recent allegations of corruption in international and national sports federations. Controversies over other sports events include abuse of rights of migrant workers building infrastructure for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and police violence during anti-World Cup protests in Brazil last year. 

To ensure that the 2024 Olympics and all Olympic events that follow can be “celebrated not just for their sporting glory but for truly upholding the principles of Olympism,” the SRA recommends that the IOC includes in the bidding criteria and in the host city contract for 2024: labor and human rights standards on freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, protection from discrimination in employment, and the elimination of forced and child labor. 

The alliance asks the IOC to adopt “robust due diligence procedures to ensure that the Games do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses in the hosting or staging of an Olympic event.”

All these standards should not be based on goodwill, but should be non-negotiable and binding for all stakeholders, the letter said. In addition, the IOC should develop from the very beginning an independent monitoring mechanism to make sure promises made in the bidding phase and fixed in the host city contract are adhered to over the lifetime of the event. 

“At the Beijing and Sochi Olympics, the exploitation of migrant workers, repression of critics, and corruption cast a long shadow over the sports,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “The IOC is at a crucial moment to signal to would-be hosts that rights abuses, corruption, and repression have no place in the Olympic movement.”

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