Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Olympic Games are a human rights disaster

So writes Ilya Somin at the FEE website. The Olympic Games cause a great amount of harm to many people in the host city, in particular to the poor and politically weak.
Host cities routinely lose enormous amounts of money on the games, and end up with decaying stadiums that have little or no value. Even worse, governments often forcibly displace large numbers of people from their homes and businesses in order to make room for Olympic venues. Over one million people lost their homes for the 2008 Beijing games alone. Brazil has similarly evicted large numbers of people for the currently ongoing Rio Olympics, and even more to build stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. Most of those evicted are the poor and people lacking in political power.

The Olympics have also often become propaganda showcases for authoritarian regimes, as happened with the 2008 Olympics in China, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In an earlier era, the the same problem arose on an even more egregious scale with the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Berlin, and the 1980 games in the Soviet Union.
But, Somin goes on to argue, none of this has to happen.
We can reform the Olympics to put an end to it. The forcible evictions are perhaps the easiest problem to fix. The International Olympic Committee and the international community more generally should insist that organizers commit to building the necessary venues without forcibly displacing residents. If a city cannot or will not do that, it should not be allowed to host the games. No sports event is worth the forcible displacement of innocent people from their homes.

We can also put an end to the economic harm caused by the Olympics by insisting on private funding, instead of government subsidies. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, almost the only modern games to avoid massive losses, did so by relying on almost entirely on private funds. Government subsidies for sports facilities have a strong tendency to cause more economic harm than benefit. Private investors have stronger incentives to use resources efficiently, since their own money is at stake. And if they do err, at least the taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag.

Finally, we can end the use of the games as a propaganda tool for repressive regimes by limiting host rights to liberal democracies. If the IOC again awards the games to authoritarian states, the West should boycott. The mere threat of a large-scale boycott might well disincentivize such regimes from trying to host in the first place, and prevent the IOC from awarding them the games if they do bid.
The problem I see with Somin's reforms is that they would result in the IOC getting a lots less money from the games and that is something they will fight to the bitter end to avoid. Many of the problems we see with organisations like Fifa are present in the IOC and until there is genuine reform of the IOC itself you will not see any changes to the Olympics. Until then money will talk and the poor and powerless will pay the price.

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