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Why Do International Sporting Events Always Fail When It Comes To Human Rights?

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By Pratik Ph:

Before and after any international sporting event, there are reports of widespread human rights violations. Even with ample pieces of evidence, this issue has never been addressed effectively. The 2016 Olympics Games in Rio is not an exception to this either.

The Telegraph reported that ever since Rio won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics in 2009, there have been more than 2,500 police killings. Amnesty International, on the other hand, confirmed that more than 22,000 families have been removed since 2009 in Rio.

Now, the world is awaiting the next big events i.e. the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games and the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And there are already reports of severe human rights violations, especially in the FIFA World Cup site in Qatar. Amnesty International’s report that released this year, based on interviews conducted with the migrant construction workers, has recorded rampant human rights abuses, such as workers not getting their residence permits, employers confiscating passports and so on. The report also states that some workers endure excessive and often dangerous working hours, squalid living conditions, and also have their payments withheld.

If we look at some incidents in the past, we would find many such examples. According to this paper published by Institute of Human Rights and Business, London, as many as 1.5 million people were displaced during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while some 35,000 families were evicted from public lands for the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010. At the Beijing Olympic venue, at least 10 people were killed while some 17,000 workers had complained of workplace exploitation.

International sporting events organised by the international sports associations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) capture global attention. In these events, athletes from different continents come together, representing the spirit of harmony and global interconnectedness. The principles of Olympism clearly talk about “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”, whereas Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) talks about values of humanity, equality, and destiny. Therefore, these incidents of human rights violations, go against the very principles that the organisations stand for. The question arises – who is responsible for ensuring human rights at all stages of these events?

There is essentially a multitude of actors involved in organising an international event, ranging from the host country to local private businesses and international multinational companies. Yet, I think, it is the responsibility of the international sports associations, at the helm of the organising committee of the event, to ensure that human rights are respected throughout the process – starting right from the bidding to the closing ceremony.

I say this because it is these associations that set the rules; all other actors follow and deliver the targets determined by the host country. If we take examples of the preeminent sporting associations, like the IOC or the FIFA association, principles of human dignity, integrity and participation are integral to their constitutions. These associations also have their code of ethics that clearly stipulate ‘ethical considerations’ that host countries need to take into account. However, when it comes to implementation more specificity and coherence is required.

There are some steps taken recently by the international sports associations but most of them are on papers and do not talk about how to implement them. For example, very recently in April 2016, FIFA came up with a commitment that stated that it shall further incorporate human rights in their bidding and hosting process of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. In a welcoming step, the IOC had come up with the ‘The Olympic Agenda 2020‘, in 2014, according to which the contract the IOC’s host city adheres to, will include a set of criteria on human rights protections as well. Similarly, The Commonwealth Games Federation in its ‘Transformation 2022‘, talks about its commitment to ‘adoption of an industry-leading code of ethics, which promotes integrity, respect, and human rights.’

In order to effectively minimise instances of severe human rights violations, we need to ensure that these commitments are translated into practical steps. The first step should include integrating a coherent and uniform approach based on the UN Human Rights Declaration and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in all its relevant operating procedures. Secondly, it is important that the international sports associations make it mandatory for the local organising committees to publicly disclose the information to protect human rights more effectively. Lastly, it is also important to establish an office to monitor human rights independent of the respective authority in order to keep the transparency.

With these important steps, I think we will be able to effectively address and minimise human rights violations in international sporting events. The Guardian rightly puts, that in Olympics 2016, Rio has missed the gold medal for human rights, but the world has other opportunities to take corrective steps in, and we should not miss out on any other opportunity at any cost.


Image source:  Dean Mouhtaropoulos/ Getty Images

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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