Sport and Society’s Updates

Human Rights and the 2022 Olympics | article link | by Minky Worden

The Olympic spirit has come to this: Two authoritarian countries are vying to host the 2022 Winter Games, competing to endure a huge financial strain for the benefit of burnishing their public image. The withdrawal of Oslo in October left Beijing, China’s capital, and Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, as the contenders. They formally submitted their bids to the Internation Olympic Committee this month.

That helps explain why the president of the International Olympic Committee, the German lawyer Thomas Bach, pushed through landmark human rights reforms at a big Olympic summit meeting in Monaco last month.

For the first time, host countries must sign a contract that requires protections for human rights, labor and the environment. These “international agreements and protocols” are meant to protect against abuses such as Russia’s anti-gay law, passed ahead of last year’s Winter Games in Sochi, and the labor and human rights abuses before and during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. These reforms are about to get a rigorous test in the global spotlight — whether the 2022 Games are in China, which welcomed journalists to Beijing in 2008 with a censored Internet, or Kazakhstan, which locks up critics and closes down newspapers.

Over the past decade, Human Rights Watch has documented how major sporting events are also accompanied by human rights violations when games are awarded to serial human rights abusers. Repressive countries promised to respect media and other rights to secure the events, then reneged and relied on international sporting bodies to stay silent.