The Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA) is a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organizations and trade unions. It was founded in early 2015 to address the decision-makers of international sports mega-events to introduce measures to ensure these events are always organized in a way that respects human rights (including labour rights), the environment and anti-corruption requirements at all stages of the process – from bidding, through to the development and delivery phase to final reporting. The SRA includes Amnesty International, Football Supporters Europe, Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, and Transparency International Germany.
In 2016, the Summer Olympics are held in Brazil. This requires a great effort: building sports facilities, hotels and infrastructure. A lot needs to be done, also in the field of human rights. For example to prevent excessive police force against peaceful demonstrators. In Brazil, demonstrators are arbitrarily detained and labelled as criminals by charging them with ‘criminal offences’. Prison conditions are extremely harsh due to overcrowding, violence and torture. The rights of indigenous peoples are frequently violated. And even though gay marriage is legalized in Brazil, lesbians, gays and transgenders widely suffer from discrimination and violence.
Read about the right to protest in Brazil: Brazil: “They use a strategy of fear”- Protecting the rights to protest in Brazil
Excessive police violence
Extrajudicial executions at the hands of police officials are frequent in Brazil. In the context of the so-called “war on drugs”, military police forces have unnecessarily and excessively used lethal force, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people over the past decade. The authorities often use the legal term of “resistance followed by death” as a smokescreen to cover up killings committed by the police officers.
Nearly 16 percent of the total homicides registered in Rio de Janeiro in the last five years took place at the hands of on-duty police officers – 1,519 in total. Only in the favela of Acari, in the north of the city, Amnesty International found evidence that strongly suggests the occurrence of extrajudicial executions in at least 9 out of 10 killings committed by the military police in 2014. The majority of victims of police killings registered from 2010 to 2013 are young black men of between 15 and 29 years of age.
Read more about police violence in: Brazil: You killed my son: Homicides by military police in the city of Rio de Janeiro
The human rights situation in Russia is abysmal. Since 2012, numerous new laws further suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, gays and artists are thwarted in many ways to prevent them from voicing any criticism. The ‘law on foreign agents’ paralyzes civil society. Ahead of the World Cup, there is a risk of increased repression of the right to freedom of expression.
In the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, the repression was steadily intensified. Yevgeny Vitishko, for example, was arrested in Sochi on 3 Februari 2014. This environmental activist was trying to prove that rare trees were chopped to make way for sporting facilities. He supposedly used swear words while standing at a bus stop, which resulted in a three year prison sentence. He is still in jail.
In 2018, the Winter Olympics are being held in South Korea. Some victories are desired for human rights in that country. The rights of migrant workers are severely violated in South Korea. They have very long working hours and are underpaid. They don’t get any days off or holidays and they live in bad housing conditions. Trade unions are obstructed in their work. The freedom of expression is repressed as well. The National Security Law is used to intimidate and arrest critical activists and politicians.
The human rights situation in the host country of the 2020 Summer Olympics seems to be deteriorating. The government fails to effectively address discrimination against foreigners. The asylum procedure is too strict; in 2013 only six out of 3.700 applicants were granted asylum. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which came into force in December 2014, could be used to limit access to information that citizens need to hold their government accountable for their acts. And Japan still upholds the death penalty.
For now, Amnesty is not concerned that human rights violations will take place in association with the sporting event.
In 2022, Qatar is host country of the World Cup. Scores of football stadiums and other facilities are being built for this event, often by foreign workers. The working conditions in the construction business, and for people doing domestic work, are extremely bad and amount to exploitation. Additionally, women are discriminated against, the freedom of expression is restricted and the judicial system is not up to international standards.
China has a strong influence in the world. This is one of the reasons why it is so alarming that the country, candidate for organizing the 2022 Winter Olympics and 2026 World Cup, barely complies with human rights. The freedoms of expression, religion and assembly are highly curtailed. China’s system of internet censorship is believed to be the most advanced in the world. Everyone who fights for human rights risks intimidation, detention and torture. The death penalty is handed down more often in China than in all other countries of the world combined. The Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics brought increased repression to the entire country.
In 2022 the Winter Olympics are being held in China; when the host for the World Cup will be chosen is yet unknown.
Kazachstan is candidate for hosting the World Cup Football in 2026. The human rights record of the country is poor. Beautiful words cover up bad practices: Kazachstan “will not rest until torture is completely eliminated”, the government announced. But torture is still taking place. The freedom of expression, association and assembly are restricted. Peaceful protesters are arrested, independent organizations are obstructed in their work, newspapers are forbidden, and social media are blocked. A law that bans propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations – read: homosexuality – is ready to be signed by the President.
When the host for the World Cup will be chosen is yet unknown.
Amnesty International has the following recommendations in order to stop or prevent human rights violations related to major sporting events:
• States hosting a major sporting event should ensure rights are not violated in the context of this event.
• The organizing bodies, like IOC and FIFA, should have in place robust due diligence procedures to ensure that the sporting event does not cause or contribute to human rights violations. This means, that they should have a human rights policy, and processes to act on such a policy.
a. Organizing bodies should make clear in the bidding and selection processes that they expect the host states to commit to upholding human rights in the hosting and staging of the sporting event. They should also investigate the human rights risks and the possibilities to minimize these.
b. When considering awarding a major sporting event to a country, they could first look at the risk of human rights violations in the context of hosting and staging the event. If a country has a history of abuses linked to major building projects – for example forced evictions or labour exploitation – there is a risk of repetition. The organizing body should ask the candidate country to provide assurances as part of its bid.
c. Once a country has been awarded a major sporting event, the organizing body should work with the country to develop a risks and mitigation plan.
d. The organizing body should make clear the steps it will take if the host state violates rights in the context of the sporting event.
e. The organizing body should ensure it has independent human rights monitors who can report to it regularly.
f. In all contracts between the event organizers and companies, there should be clear stipulation that the company must respect human rights and operate in a manner consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the documentation underpinning the awarding of the major sporting event to the host state, there should be specific provisions on the commitment of the host state to ensure human rights are respected and protected in the context of the event. If the host state breaches these provisions, similar sanctions should apply as to breaches of other legal commitments made by the host state to the organizing body.
g. The whole sub-contracting chain involved in the major sporting event should respect human rights. All contracts must therefore carry a human rights clause.
• All companies involved in the hosting or staging of a major sporting event should respect human rights and ensure they are respected throughout their sub-contracting and supply chains as well.
In relation to major sporting events, like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, Amnesty International distinguishes two forms of human rights violations.
• Violations directly related to the staging or hosting of the event. Examples are forced evictions carried out to construct sports stadiums or other infrastructure, or labour exploitation in the construction sector involving people working on sporting event infrastructure.
• Human rights violations that are not directly related to the event, but where there is a risk of increased violations during or in connection with the event. For example, if the host state represses the freedom of expression because the authorities don’t want insurgents to attract attention once the eyes of the world are on the country.
Four parties can be held responsible for these violations.
1. The host state
Naturally, the national government has the ultimate responsibility for human rights violations in its country. It makes no difference whether these violations are committed by the state itself or by “non-state actors” like companies. But the authorities are not the only ones responsible.
2. Organizing bodies
International organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a “responsibility to respect” human rights. This means they have to conduct adequate due diligence in order to prevent that organizing the World Cup or Olympics causes human rights violations or contributes to them.
It is legitimate to hold organizing bodies to account on human rights violations related to organizing or hosting a sports event. When the violation is committed by the government or an enterprise that is involved with the event, Amnesty will point out the relationship of the event to FIFA or IOC. In that case, FIFA or IOC should act to end the violation.
Naturally, the influence of organizing bodies is limited when the state violates human rights. Therefore, Amnesty asks the organizers to lay down in advance in binding documents that host countries respect and protect human rights in the context of the sporting event.
Amnesty International will not address FIFA and IOC on the general human rights situation in a country. But we will seize the opportunity of a sporting event to urge the government to take measures against violations.
3. Sponsoring companies
All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. They have to prevent infringements on these rights and act with utmost care to ensure that their business relations do not have a damaging effect. This is part of the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles are not legally binding, but they form a widely accepted standard which was endorsed by the UN Commission of Human Rights.
A company is also responsible for not sponsoring an organization or event that causes human rights violations or contributes to them. We ask sponsors to express their concerns towards the organizer about violations in the context of the sporting event. If the organizer itself commits the violations or is an accessory to them, sponsoring the event is inappropriate and in violation of the responsibility of companies.
4. Companies involved in a sporting event
Companies can be involved in a sporting event in many different ways – from building a stadium to selling merchandise. The same goes for these companies: they have a responsibility to respect human rights.