Children are “invisible” when sports governing bodies consider the impact of Mega Sporting Events, according to research.
A paper entitled ‘Mega-sporting events and children’s rights and interests – towards a better future’ has been published by Suzanne Dowse, Sacha Powell and Mike Weed from Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK.
In the paper, the authors state that while it is now generally acknowledged that major events like the Olympic Games or World Cup finals need an embedded human rights framework to accurately identify impacts on affected communities, there is a “paucity of information that presents children as invisible and suggests they have yet to be considered meaningfully as stakeholders within event processes”.
As a result, whilst other important issues such as environmental sustainability are prominent in Mega Sporting Events (MSE) literature, child rights receive little or no attention as was demonstrated in Paris’ successful bid to host the 2024 Olympics.
“The reason we have children’s rights distinct from broader human rights is because of their needs and interests; they are generally more vulnerable than adults to things happening in their immediate and indirect social environment, and it is these environments that Mega Sporting Events impact. »
For instance, during the organization of the Olympic Games and the World Cup in Rio, more than 22,000 families were forcibly evicted. The community of Vila Autodromo was torn apart to make way for the event, impacting directly the lives of many children, whose voices have not been heard and taken into consideration.
In this video Perola, a girl forcibly evicted from her home, describes how the Games impacted on her life.
The paper from Canterbury Christ Church University explains: “We need to think about the events in this broader way, so that we can draw out the specific risks and opportunities they present to children and ensure that they are captured in planning and delivery processes. A significant percentage of the displaced families will be minors and children, but with these statistics you don’t get any sense of that.”
Suzanne Dowse believes that, in part, this is down to the problem of data collection: “This is the nub of the problem. Because we don’t look at children as a distinct stakeholder group, we don’t collect data in a way which helps them to stand out, so they get subsumed.”
Earlier this year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it had incorporated human rights requirements into the Host City Contract for the 2024 Olympics, for the first time.
Suzanne believes this was a positive step forward, but that much more focus needs to be given to what this means in the context of child rights, and the implementation of the criteria established.
“The point at which we need to operationalize the inclusion of children is the point at which these documents are being put together,” she said.
“When an event is proposed for an area there needs to be a comprehensive analysis of what the impacts of hosting are likely to be for the affected communities, which includes children. The social analyses must capture children’s lived experiences and their views to ensure that the diversity and inequalities aren’t overlooked.”
The research commissioned by Terre des Hommes found that, just like many organisations outside of sport, Mega Sporting Events owners need to address “a lack of leadership on social responsibility” and must develop a “golden thread” throughout their organisations, which would establish children’s rights and interests as integral to MSE hosting criteria, along with monitoring, sanction and ‘access to remedy’ systems.
“That level of analysis needs to be done as part of the bid process. The only people who can really require that, or lead on that, are the event owners because they set down the criteria for the bid, and for the bid to be accepted.”
Suzanne is unequivocal. “Leadership should come from the event owners.”
Governing bodies have been accused of using too much hyperbole and ‘spin’ when communicating about future events, perhaps in an attempt to negate the negative press received from previous events when rights violations have occurred.
Suzanne said: “The IOC and FIFA are really coming under the spotlight now for the way which they impact on society and how they respond. Often the response is “are they just saying what they know people want to hear, but as soon as the pressure is off they will go and carry on with the way they have always done things?”
“That’s why we need the Sport and Rights Alliance or other organisations, and this continuation of pressure and continued focus on social issues, in a way we haven’t seen before.
“It’s another layer of pressure which will lead from a positive projection of ‘we do all these things wonderfully’ to concrete activities such as the human rights framework and social impact analyses – which could draw on the mapping of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals against the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These activities should be supported by a sanction mechanism, which means that these words relate to meaningful activities with demonstrable outcomes.
“Then the MSE owner has an opportunity to say ‘we have asked all of these questions, so when we award the bid it is on the basis that all of these things will be in place’. They will have oversight of that and there will be appropriate sanctions put in place if these things do not happen.
“That is obviously some way down the line, and sounds a bit utopian, but that’s the direction of travel that we need to move in. Something very concrete, something much stronger than just saying ‘we want the event to be lovely and it’s going to do all of these nice things’.”
Of course such a transparent and accountable approach would require much stronger leadership from the MSE owners, which should not shy away from acknowledging and addressing the failings in this area, as well as any successes.
 According to the Rio de Janeiro city government 22,059 families were resettled between 2009 – when the Rio Olympics were awarded – and 2016, when the Games took place. But no data on the specific number of under-18s affected is available.