Terre des Hommes will attend the ‘Sporting Chance Forum’ in Geneva this week, when around 150 representatives from governments, sports governing bodies, UN agencies, NGOs and trade unions, sponsors and broadcasters will gather to focus on the issue of human rights around Mega Sporting Events, such as the Olympics or FIFA World Cup finals.

The event is being hosted by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Mega-Sporting Events Platform for Human Rights. Here, in the second part of a two-part interview, Children Win speaks to John Morrison, Chief Executive of IHRB.



Children Win: The IHRB recently helped to organise a workshop on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tell us more about the event.

John Morrison: Over the past two years we have developed a good relationship with TOCOG (Tokyo Organising Committee for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games). This meant in September we were able to bring together a coalition that has never convened at local level – most of the local sponsors, TOCOG, the Cabinet Office of the Japanese Government, all of the lead NGOs and UN agencies. We sat around the table together and asked ‘how are we going to manage these risks with regard to Tokyo, both in terms of the supply chain and with issues in Japan? How do we create Games that are going to have a powerful legacy and be transparent in terms of how decisions are made and the impact that the Games will have?’ The global governing body of the Olympics and Paralympics – the IOC – attended and I think they were pretty impressed that this was a ‘bottom-up’ platform.

When it comes to impact and why we are doing this – it’s about some of the most vulnerable people, often children, and their real lives. If we can show that at the organisations who work with these people and have a common cause are already working with each other, I think that is where our real momentum will come from.

TOCOG has shown the IOC the value of collective action, actually at the grassroots level, with regard to a specific mega-sporting event. It sent a powerful message to other members of our Platform and the question now is: can we replicate that for Beijing, for Qatar, and for other events to come?


CW: TOCOG has subsequently announced a ‘grievance mechanism’ for people affected within the supply chains of the 2020 Olympics (read more here). Tell us what this means.

JM: Grievance mechanisms are very important because even if you are a business or a government and you have the best policies in place, bad things can and will still happen. Mistakes will happen, you can slip up.

Think about the revelations that have come out about sexual abuse recently, against children in sport, and women and men generally. We have to assume that in every culture around the world, human rights are at risk, and unless you give people the chance to speak out, things can escalate and get worse. We are currently seeing millions of women speak out about things which have gone on for decades. It’s only because that opportunity to be listened to has arrived.

So in the sports context, I remember London 2012 – a very well-prepared mega-sporting event with zero fatalities in construction, which is the only event to achieve such a figure – having to call in the army at the last minute for security. These things will always happen, so remedy and some sort of grievance mechanism through which affected groups can try to get a problem solved is an essential part of the system.

It’s amazing how many sports bodies and event organisers feel a remedy system or grievance mechanism sends the message that they are not managing things properly, which is the wrong way to look at it. It’s extremely positive that while TOCOG wasn’t required to create a grievance mechanism for human rights by their (host city) contract, they have nonetheless begun that process. It’s also important to emphasise that a grievance mechanism that produces complaints isn’t necessarily a bad sign – it’s often a sign that a process is trusted, and an extremely effective means of engaging with stakeholders.



CW: Has there been any response to the meeting in Tokyo from the IOC?

JM: Not publicly, so we await President Bach’s speech at the Sporting Chance Forum this week with great anticipation. I expect the IOC will talk about the value of collective action, because I think they have seen that – particularly in Tokyo but also more widely. And I think the other sports bodies are seeing that it’s worth working with their critics in advance, as opposed to waiting for criticisms or crises to come. I hope the IOC will talk about making this work a more permanent part of the way they approach things, and I hope the IOC says their human rights journey starts now, not in 2024 when the first event under a host city contract with a human rights clause takes place.


CW: Do you hope other MSE’s will follow this example?

JM: Yes, the world looks to the IOC and FIFA to make sure this is a contractual obligation for every mega-sporting event, but what about all of those other sports bodies? When we talk about ‘mega’ events we mean it in the financial sense too, whether it’s Formula One or the Premier League, or events in the USA. Do they all have grievance mechanisms that are effective? And then there’s others like cricket where the infrastructure is largely all in place and you don’t think about workers dying, but the broadcast rights go around the world and the way that children, men and women are portrayed, or the rights that athletes have themselves, highlight human rights issues. Sometimes these events are used by leaders to put a gloss on their leadership, as was the case in 1936 for Adolf Hitler, and we cannot allow these events to be used like that.


CW: Considering the IHRB’s experience in human rights outside of sport, do you feel sport is having to catch up with other sectors?

JM: Sport does seem to be very silo-ed away from other industries. I understand that with the Olympic tradition, it wants to stay away from politics, and we don’t want to undermine that. However it is an industry and even bodies which are registered in Switzerland as ‘not for profit’, some of them are still commercial enterprises and very rich organisations. For them to say ‘we don’t want to have the duties that a government has’, and then pretend not to be a business either and have no responsibilities, that is not sustainable. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, there is a pillar for business and there’s a pillar for government, so whatever you are, you are within that framework. Ironically some of the businesses involved in sport, like apparel companies or the sponsors, are ahead of the sports governing bodies in that level of awareness.

The IOC and FIFA’s contractual requirements for integrating human rights in events only relate to 2024 and 2026 onwards, with the Commonwealth Games from 2022 onwards. So there is a gap between now and then, and we have a number of mega-sporting events, like the Russia and Qatar World Cups, the Pyeongchang, Tokyo and Beijing Olympics, and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, all coming before the human rights commitments are contractual for hosts. So what is it that we can do now to try to mitigate some of the worst aspects of these events? There is a short-term gain, and then the longer-term gain is to help these sports governing bodies follow through on the commitments that they have made, so that in the next decade we can have events that we can be proud of.


Read the first part of the interview here.




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