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Fair play for housing rights. Mega events, Olympic games and housing rights

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 The potential of mega-events such as the Olympic Games to foster cooperation and dialogue among the world’s peoples and nations is indisputable. Through the bringing together of humanity in all its diversity to celebrate excellence in sport and other pursuits, such events can promote peace and global solidarity. However, the staging of mega-events can also have the opposite effect. For example, they can result in human rights violations, such as the forced eviction of many thousands of people from their homes, causing severe hardship and misery. This unfortunate, darker side of mega-events stands in stark contrast to the admirable universal ideals that are often cited at their opening ceremonies.

In 2003 the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) raised the alarm on the terrible impact that preparations for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens were having upon multiple Romani communities who were being evicted from their settlements. Our concerns about the suffering being inflicted upon these communities, and the difficulties experienced in getting the Greek authorities to take the problem seriously, reminded us of many others who had been similarly affected by the hosting of major sporting and other events. We had seen this problem before, over and over again, in every city hosting the Olympics; and in many other cities hosting other types of mega-events, such as World Fairs or Expos, IMF conferences, even beauty pageants.

Our anger at the many examples of communities and individuals who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and lands in order to make way for sports stadiums, new hotels, car parks, or pretty façades, prompted COHRE to initiate the Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights Project. One of the aims of this project was to set out the international human rights framework which necessitates the protection of fundamental human rights such as the right to adequate housing, the rights to participation and information, and the prohibitions on forced evictions and discrimination. We wanted to remind mega-event organisers, sponsors, participants and the general public that under international human rights law, numerous stakeholders can and should take responsibility for ensuring the promotion and protection of those rights.

COHRE took the Olympic Games as a case study because forced evictions, discrimination against racial minorities, targeting homeless persons, and the many other effects we noted, are in complete contradiction to the very spirit and ideals of the Olympic Movement, which aims to foster peace, solidarity and respect of universal fundamental principles.

Within this context, the COHRE Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights project analysed examples of thousands of people forcibly evicted from their shelters in Seoul in 1987-8. We looked at the effects of ‘street cleaning operations’ in Atlanta in which thousands of homeless were effectively criminalised. And we studied the way in which the Roma where disproportionately affected by evictions for Olympic-related construction in Athens. Disturbingly, as our study progressed, we realised that the issue was even bigger than we had at first imagined; and getting worse. For example, since the commencement of this project, the number of people displaced due to Olympics-related development in Beijing has risen from 400,000 (a figure we reported in 2005) to a staggering 1.25 million (the number of people our research shows have been displaced as of early 2007, with another 250,000 more expected to be displaced over the next year - 2007).

Successive hosts of mega-events such as the Olympic Games like to improve on previous events, making them bigger, better, ever more spectacular. It is crucial that this spirit of improvement is translated into a growing commitment to ensure that these events improve the human rights and well-being of the inhabitants of host cities. Past errors should be used to improve future conduct of host cities. It is worrying that, in spite of publicity of the violations committed by the City of Beijing, the City of London is already failing to sufficiently prioritise housing concerns in their preparations for staging the Olympic Games.



 editors comments   

Editor's comments - [  This is a report by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE).

This publication and the project leading to it were financed by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN). The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) coordinated the project, working in partnership with a number of United Nations (UN), academic and other partners.  ]  Reference this?Cryer, J. (Year). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>

In the text: Cryer (year)


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Reference : COHRE, (2007). Fair play for housing rights. Mega events, Olympic games and housing rights. Geneva: COHRE


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