Has Rio crossed the line?
Jill Scanlon

3 Aug 2016 - 11:31 AM  UPDATED 3 Aug 2016 - 11:31 AM

As the excitement builds towards the XXXIst Olympiad in Brazil, the positive stories of athletes, teams and all that is possible in making dreams come true on the sporting field are being told.

With all the planning, funding – both commercial and public – that goes into an event of this magnitude, it is difficult for issues of a negative nature to even get an airing and certainly not the news many want to hear at such a time where the full scope of the human spirit is symbolised by achievements through sport.

But this week, the voices of those with concerns over human rights breaches linked to the preparations for these games have become so loud that they can no longer be ignored and are finally getting a hearing with the IOC.

Concerns are being raised over the lengths the authorities and the Rio2016 organisers have gone to in ensuring all is in readiness to host the world’s athletes and the world community at large.

Sport has an important role to play – a positive role – both as a tool for recreation and as a tool for development, especially in the lives of children, as is being constantly underlined by the many sport for development projects underway around the world.

However, when serious human rights issues are the consequence of the process undertaken to make a mega sports event happen every four years, then it is time for the relevant governing body to reassess the criteria by which a city and a nation are given the rights to host such an event.

With decisions made about host nations seven years out from the event, it is difficult to predict political and financial stability and public security and the IOC has a difficult task given it endeavours to spread the ‘honour’ of hosting an Olympic Games among developing nations and not just first-world countries.

With the issues that have arisen in Rio, it is not the first time questions have been asked around human rights violations in recent years around the Olympics with forced relocation and an upsurge in crime and violence becoming the common fallout.

The questions being asked now though are has Rio gone a step too far; has the balance tipped between hosting the world’s biggest sporting event, the legacy looking to be left on a social scale for the communities in these host cities and the benefits from laying open the doors of a country to welcome in the world. Must the IOC now review the process involved in the contracts it signs and the conditions to which it agrees when selecting a host?


Nelson Mandela famously said “Sport has the power to inspire and unite people.”

The United Nations also has its say on the matter constantly reiterating the value of sport in relation to peace and human rights.

And there was great fanfare in April when the UN hosted the Olympic Flame Ceremony in Geneva.

The Olympic Games is an event and an occasion to be revelled in with sport showing its power on so many levels, but in doing so it is deemed to have a responsibility to also be a leader in exemplifying sport as a tool for much more than just crossing the finishing line, running the fastest or scoring the winning goal.

There is a paradox between welcoming the specially created Refugee Team - as both an acknowledgement of the consequences of war and conflict and that sport with compassion can rise above that - when just down the road children and families have had their lives changed, suffering hardship and human rights violations, so that this iconic event can be delivered.

All the signs are that the IOC will be looking at the issues raised and recalibrating the balance needed to allocate future Olympic Games.

The bottom line is that those of us who love sport cannot wait for the Olympics in Rio to kick off over the next few days.

But it needs to be acknowledged in this modern era of professionalism and commercialism around sport, that there must now be a line drawn in the sand of Copacabana Beach as to how far is too far and that the human factor is paramount in all aspects of organising and delivering a major sporting event.

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