The importance of child rights becoming central to sports governing bodies’ new human rights policies has been brought into sharp focus by the launch of a new global campaign.

It’s a Penalty uses Mega Sporting Events (MSEs) to raise awareness and increase education around issues such as child sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking – not just during the events themselves, but across sport and society in general.

As a campaign, It’s a Penalty is making great strides in illuminating what its Chief Executive, Sarah de Carvalho, describes as “hidden and uncomfortable subjects” and working with local partners, including governments and law enforcement agencies, to take action.



Nevertheless Sarah is also adamant that much more preventative work needs to be done to ensure that MSEs themselves protect and preserve child rights, right from the start of the bidding process.

“We do know that wherever there is a major sporting event, vulnerable children are put at risk,” says Sarah.

Years of evidence collected by Children Win emphasises this issue, but NGOs active in this field are hindered by issues around data collection which make it hard to quantify and specify the size of the problem when it comes to lobbying governing bodies and other stakeholders involved in the delivery of MSEs, such as hosting cities or countries.


So for example, ‘Let’s Win This Game Together’, a report published in 2015 by the University of Dundee, documents the violation of children’s rights around the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It highlighted child CSE as one of four key areas for concern along with police and army violence, displacement and child labour.

In 2013, this review commissioned by the Child Abuse Programme (CAP) of Oak Foundation, stated that there are significant risks to children around MSEs but there is “no data to determine whether, how and to what extent those risks translate into harm”.

It states that this is because “the problem is masked by the attention given to adult exploitation” and that “monitoring and evaluation research is absent or not designed to capture the data with enough rigour”.

And while Terre des Hommes was able to report that more than 22,000 families were relocated in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil (using data provided by the Rio de Janeiro city government), it is impossible to be specific about the precise numbers of children or minors within this figure.


Add to that the difficulty in recording case studies among frightened young people who are often extremely difficult to locate by NGOs with limited resources, especially if they have been forcibly removed to another town or, in the worst cases of all, have simply disappeared from the streets of a city being prepared to stage an MSE.

Furthermore this report by report by Canterbury Christ Church University in 2017 claimed that, too often, child rights are “invisible” when it comes to planning and delivering Mega Sporting Events. It says 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”.

So with only limited empirical evidence to support our case, how can we put the exploitation of children at the top of the agenda – as it surely should be – when it comes to the delivery of a Mega Sporting Event?

Well, the good news is that over the last 12 months significant steps taken by sports governing bodies towards enshrining human rights criteria within the planning and delivery of future events.

This includes, for example, the International Olympic Committee incorporating rights criteria into the Host City Contracts for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. The IOC was advised on this by the Sport and Rights Alliance – an influential group of civil society organisations which includes Terre des Hommes.

Another breakthrough came last October when the Commonwealth Games Federation specifically cited protecting the rights of children and other vulnerable groups in its first human rights policy statement.


Yet as noted by Marc Joly, Head of Campaign for Terre des Hommes’ Children Win campaign, sports governing bodies are only “at the start of the journey” when it comes to implementing those human rights criteria effectively – not to mention child rights.

Which is why the high profile afforded specifically for the rights of children by It’s a Penalty is to be welcomed, especially in the context of Mega Sporting Events. The Olympic Games or FIFA World Cup finals must not only be an opportunity to raise awareness, they also should set an example to the world.

This is long overdue. Each of the reports referenced in this article were published during the last five years, and each of them calls on MSE organisers to incorporate child rights into the planning and delivery of their events. There can be no more hiding behind a lack of evidence.

Instead, if the IOC, FIFA and UEFA are serious about delivering more ethical events in the future, child rights must become a priority when it comes to successfully implementing human rights standards in the delivery of Mega Sporting Events.

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