Major Sporting Events Impact Housing Rights

Governments and international sports bodies routinely fail to protect area residents from forced evictions ahead of large sporting events, independent United Nations investigator Raquel Rolnik told journalists this week.

While the International Olympic Committee has initiated a plan to respond to housing concerns, the soccer governing body FIFA has failed to respond to repeated requests to make guaranteed respect for housing rights a part of the bidding process, the Associated Press reported.

As of 2016, any country vying to host an Olympic Games will have to make a clear commitment on housing issues. But in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Rolnik reported claims that over 20,000 people are being moved out of their homes ahead of the soccer World Cup in South Africa this June and July.

International sporting events like the World Cup or the Olympics have a history of attracting the attention of human rights advocates — both for violations attached to preparations for the event, and for the general rights situation in host countries.

A prime recent example is the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when human rights advocates from around the world used the resulting global spotlight to raise concerns on a wide array of issues. Activist groups targeted China over domestic concerns ranging from media freedom and freedom of association, to housing and privacy rights. Activists also encouraged Western governments and multinational corporations to put pressure on Chinese authorities to use their leverage as Sudan’s largest arms supplier to help end conflict in the Darfur region.

After the games ended, however, many human rights groups claimed the rights situation had deteriorated as a direct result of Beijing having hosted the event.

Human Rights Watch has called on the IOC to create permanent mechanisms to monitor the rights situations in host countries before and after future Olympic Games.

The upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are also likely to draw significant attention from rights advocates. Sochi is located in the eastern Black Sea region — an impoverished area home to widespread corruption and frequent violence associated with organized crime, and close to conflict zones in Ingushetia, Abkhazia and Chechnya.

Russia is also a regular target for attacks over its human rights record. Rights activists are already tying their concerns over a spate of abductions and murders of human rights lawyers, activists and journalists to the Olympics. Earlier this month Reporters Without Borders reiterated its concerns over the lack of media freedom in the Sochi region.

More World Politics Review