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UN: IOC and FIFA 'Mega-Events' Violate Housing Rights

  • David Dyar

A U.N. Special Investigator finds mega-sporting events, particularly the Olympic Games and FIFA Football World Cup, often result in extensive violations of the right to adequate housing. The investigator, who has submitted her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, is calling for the IOC and FIFA to minimize the abuse by carefully scrutinizing bids before awarding the Games.

In the past, U.N. Special Investigator on Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik says cities often seized on the Olympics as an opportunity to raise the local economy and upgrade their housing and transportation systems.

She says this rarely happens now. In fact, she says she has received a great many complaints and allegations of violations of housing rights from residents of cities that have hosted mega-sporting events. "Particularly, on the practice of forced evictions and displacement, on criminalization of homeless persons and criminalization of informal activities, on the dismantling of informal settlements without adequate alternative provisions for adequate housing in the context of mega-events," she said.

Rolnik says she has received allegations about housing rights violations in the lead-up to the World Cup in South Africa this summer. She says the complaints allege that more than 20,000 residents from the Joe Slovo Informal settlements have been moved to impoverished areas on the edge of the city to make room for a modernized housing project.

South African officials refute these charges. On a recent visit to Geneva, South Africa's Minister of Internal Relations said not a single community has been forcibly removed from the so-called Gateway Housing Project in preparation for the World Cup.

U.N. Special Investigator Rolnik says she has had constructive discussions with the IOC regarding housing problems. And, she says the IOC has agreed to incorporate housing concerns in their bidding process for the 2016 Olympics.

She notes negotiations with FIFA have been far less successful. "It is [a] much less transparent and clear process of building and selecting as compared to the Olympic committee. So, I urge also FIFA to open up, to be more transparent and to open up the discussion on the impact of football games on this matter," she said.

As the two major sporting events in the world, Rolnik says the Olympic Games and the FIFA Football World Cup have the power to influence and set examples for other events. She says she sees the bidding and selection process, as a key moment to set standards for the protection of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing.