Mega sporting events and child abuse

Mega sporting events such as the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup attract global attention and excitement. Thousands of spectators flock to cities and countries around the world to watch inspiring athletes compete, and millions more watch from afar. Positive consequences such as economic growth and increased tourism are just some of the reasons why countries place bids to host such events. But what about the negative impact it has on the host nation?

In recent years, the link between human rights and mega sporting events has become more and more apparent. In addition to human rights abuses directly linked to the events, such as forced labour, abuse and exploitation or forced evictions of children and families, mega sporting events can exacerbate existing structural violence.

Oak grantee, Terre des Hommes, works to support the rights of children in and around mega sporting events and in early July 2016 organised a side-event together with Amnesty International Brazil and Nosso Jogo network (Austria) on ‘human rights legacy in sporting events’ at the 32nd Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva. Andrea Florence, representing Terre des Hommes, said that “a global sporting event can only be truly successful and legitimate if it does not harm the host population – including its children”. However, despite pledges by Brazil’s Government authorities to generate better conditions for all people in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the state and country, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations “paint a different picture”.[1]

Ana Paula Oliveira’s son was killed by ‘pacification’ police in Rio one month before the 2014 FIFA World Cup. “I am speaking not only on behalf of my pain, but I am the voice of thousands of young people killed every day in the favelas in Rio, mainly by policemen. I want to see the killers be held accountable”. In May 2016 alone, 40 people were killed by the police in Rio de Janeiro, an increase of 130 per cent on the same period last year, when 17 cases were registered. Amnesty International warns of continued surges in violence ahead of this year’s Olympic Games.[2]

Andrea Florence spoke about forced evictions: “it is estimated that 7,000 families in Rio were evicted without due process or compensation to make way for infrastructure directly or indirectly linked to the [2016] Olympics in Rio”.  Maria da Penha saw her home being demolished in March. “I used to live just next to the Olympic Park,” she said. “We were forced to leave. We were not consulted. We were under pressure, physically and psychologically.”  Almost 600 families have been similarly affected. Maria is thankful that “after two and a half years of fight, we have finally reached an agreement with the government allowing 20 families to stay in Vila Autódromo, her favela. I now live in a container. The government’s deadline to deliver our new homes is July 22”.

In addition, the welfare of children in the face of house evictions is of paramount importance. “We know from research[3] that some of the negative impacts of mega sporting events pose particular risks to children“, said Andrea. “We also know that most risks are not inevitable, but can be prevented or mitigated.”

Ana and Maria want to change the way mega sporting events operate. Ana spoke about how it can be difficult to maintain adequate momentum towards solving this issue due to limited media coverage, high institutionalisation of the problems and a desire of governments to hide reality before the world stage. In addition, police scare tactics and poverty make it hard for activists to dedicate time and effort to a cause because they need to support themselves. In addition to speaking at the Human Rights Council at the UN, the women also met with the International Olympic Committee to raise their concerns and provide recommendations for future Olympic games, including taking appropriate measures to prevent violations in the future.

But, as Maria said at the UN this week “I hope in the future, things can be different” and it seems that change is on its way with a new coalition committing to making human rights central to the planning, delivery and legacy of mega-sporting events.[4] Oak Foundation will certainly keep working to support this goal.


[1] Amnesty International, Violence has no place in these games: Risk of human rights violations at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, AMR 19/4008/2016, 2016.

[2] Amnesty International, Brazil: Surge in killings by police sparks fear in favelas ahead of Rio Olympics, 27 April 2016.

[3] University of Dundee, Let’s Win This Game Together: Documenting children’s rights violations around the 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup, Society Research Group, 2016 and Brackenridge, C; Palmer-Felgate, S; Rhind, D, et al, Child Exploitation and the FIFA World Cup: A review of risks and protective interventions, Brunei University London, 2013.

[4] Institute for Human Rights and Business, Diverse Coalition Commits to Making Human Rights Central to mega-Sporting Events, 20 June 2016.

© Fireworx Media