Mega-events targeted in Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report

Photo: Adam Groffman/Flickr

"There cannot be a truly successful sporting event in countries where there are major human rights abuses," writes Human Rights Watch's Minky Worden. Photo: Adam Groffman/Flickr


By Stine Alvad
This year’s report on human rights abuses in the world, published by Human Rights Watch, features a special essay on human rights violations in relation to mega-events.

In addition to the listing of the status on human rights violations in countries worldwide, this year’s report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) features three essays in which HRW targets special areas in need of action in order to avoid further human rights abuses. Sporting mega-events is one of these.

The essay on mega-events entitled 'Raising the bar' is written by Minky Worden, HRW director of global initiatives, who calls for the big international federations such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Football Federation (FIFA) to include human rights benchmarks in their reviewing processes of countries’ eligibility to host mega-events.

Worden points to five types of human rights abuses that are most commonly associated with the hosting of major sporting events:

  1. Forced evictions of citizens without due process or compensation
  2. The abuse and exploitation of migrant workers
  3. The silencing of civil society and rights activists
  4. The threatening, intimidation and arrest of journalists
  5. Discrimination such as that of women or the LBGT community

According to Worden, the prospects for making reforms in the IOC and FIFA that can limit such human rights abuses are greater now than they have been before.

Reports about the working conditions of migrant workers in relation to the preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the Russian law banning homosexual ‘propaganda’ as well as the lack of freedom of press in future hosting nations have created a public awareness and a momentum that is worth acting on.

“With this perfect storm of abuses tied to, and often caused by preparation for, mega-sporting events, it is time for practical reform to encourage governments to clean up their human rights acts before hosting. International sporting bodies need to accept that awarding contracts for massive infrastructure to governments that violate human rights will only compound existing violations, while governing bodies need to reform from within [...],” Worden writes.

Both the IOC and FIFA are currently signaling that reform is underway and both organisations’ charters hail sport as a human right and denote discrimination, but according to Worden they still have some way to go before the “gap between these lofty words and the ugly reality on the ground” is bridged.

She recommends that human rights monitoring should be made part of the hosting process and that monitoring progress in human rights and press freedom should be similar to the way that the completion of sporting facilities is being monitored.

A country’s commitment to comply with human rights should also be part of the bid evaluation and host city contrasts should be publicly accessible. And countries in which women are not welcome as spectators, should not be able to host major sporting events.

Finally, evaluations of future mega-event hosts should include human rights benchmarks, such as media and internet freedom, fair compensation for forced evictions, labor rights for workers building venues, protection for activists and peaceful protests and protection against discrimination.

“There cannot be a truly successful sporting event in countries where there are major human rights abuses,” Worden concludes the essay.

More information


Read the entire essay by Minky Worden:

See more about the Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report


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