Does international sport make the world a better place? This volume critically examines the claims that global sports events promote peace, mutual understanding, antiracism, and democracy, and exposes repeated shortcomings in human rights protection, from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games to Brazil's 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
2019 | 248 pages | Cloth $49.95
Sociology / Philosophy / Recreation/Leisure
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Table of Contents
Introduction. The Ideals of International Sport
—Barbara Jean Keys
PART I. The Core Ideals
Chapter 1. Friendship and Mutual Understanding: Sport, Rhetoric, and Regional Relations in Southeast Asia
Chapter 2. Antidiscrimination: Racism and the Case of South Africa
Chapter 3. Democracy and Democratization: The Ambiguous Legacy
—Joon Seok Hong
Chapter 4. Peace: The United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, and the Renovation of the Olympic Truce
PART II. The Rise of Human Rights
Chapter 5. Reframing Human Rights: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Sport
—Barbara Jean Keys
Chapter 6. The Moscow 1980 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Games: Dissent and Repression
Chapter 7. Hosting the Olympic Games in Developed Countries: Debating the Human Rights Ideals of Sport
Chapter 8. The View from China: Two Olympic Bids, One Olympic Games, and China's Changing Rights Consciousness
Chapter 9. Competing for Rights?: Human Rights and Recent Sport Mega-Events in Brazil
—João Roriz and Renata Nagamine
Conclusion. The Future of Idealism in Sport
—Barbara Jean Keys and Roland Burke
List of Contributors
The Ideals of International Sport
Barbara Jean Keys
"Sport has the power to change the world," South African president Nelson Mandela told the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo in 2000. "It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. . . . Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."
Sentiments such as these have been uttered by politicians, diplomats, intellectuals, journalists, athletes, and fans, in various guises and with varying emphases, since the origins of international sporting competition in the second half of the nineteenth century. Today we are saturated with messages about the benefits of international sporting competitions. They promote peace. They teach fair play and mutual understanding. They combat racial, ethnic, gender, religious, and national discrimination. In more recent years, the list has expanded at a dizzying rate: international sports bodies now claim to fight poverty, protect the environment, and promote human rights. Critics often appropriate these claims as they push for reality to better match the rhetoric. The voices of doubters—those who dispute the claims outright—are few in number and nearly inaudible amid the cacophony of celebration.
The claims are plentiful and pervasive, but the evidence to back them is sparse and weak. When moral claims are made, it is rarely in the spirit of advancing an argument for which convincing examples need to be provided in the face of skepticism. More often, moral claims are made in the spirit of incantation, like a liturgy based on faith, not facts.
Take the longest-serving and most deeply rooted of these claims: that international sporting events generate transnational bonds of friendship and mutual understanding that make the world more peaceful. During the Cold War, this notion was contested on the grounds that international sport increases the risk of conflict by exacerbating national rivalries. George Orwell famously condemned international sport as "war without the shooting." Such sentiments faded after the end of the Cold War, and the mantra of peace is now virtually unchallenged.
If the proposition that international sport fosters peace was credible, we would expect to see social scientists flocking to test and measure this effect. There would be a sport counterpart to the vast scholarship scrutinizing the "democratic peace theory," which holds that democracies rarely go to war with each other. But there is no field of study devoted to "the theory of international sport and peace." The leading journal of peace and conflict studies, the Journal of Peace Research, has never in its history published an article about the peaceful effects of international sport competition.
Sport scholars who claim that the link between sport and peace is real often do little more than cite gestures that have no clear consequences, such as North and South Korean athletes marching together under the same flag during the opening ceremony at the 2000, 2004, and 2018 Olympic Games despite the two nations being technically in a state of war. The International Olympic Truce Centre (IOTC), with funding from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has existed for nearly two decades but begins from the assumption that sport and peace are linked and then offers weakly correlative examples instead of probing cause and effect. The IOTC produces propaganda such as a hundred-page booklet on the truce's role in "the toolkit for peace," which claims that "The universal nature of [the IOTC's] message creates the potential for the Truce to act as a global 'integrator,' balancing the multiple dependencies and complexities within the world, while understanding the primacy of sport as a conduit for peace." The Olympic Games, this booklet asserts, are a reminder "of just how easy it can be to overcome difference when there is shared commitment and all-round goodwill." The IOTC's motto is "If we can have peace for 16 days, then maybe, just maybe, we can have it forever." Critic John Hoberman calls these sorts of incantations simply delusional.
To understand these claims—why so many people make them and why so many people believe them—it is not enough merely to test them as true or false. The claims are important far beyond the question of their veracity: they constitute a system of meaning and a way of imagining the international. As a set of beliefs, they shape behavior and practice. Moral claims about sport occupy an important but largely overlooked place in a constellation of international idealisms that have gripped the global imagination in the last century and a half. The moral benefits that we expect of international sport are embedded in a wider constellation of internationalist aspirations, from a long tradition of peace movements and organizations seeking to foster international understanding to more recent causes such as protecting the environment and promoting human rights.
"Before our common tie of humanity, differences in manners and customs among races mean next to nothing. . . . We have learned the noble spirit which should prevail in the future by our friendship with all the nationalities of the world." This sort of sentiment has often been offered about international sports events such as the Olympic Games. In this case, however, the remark describes the Harvard International Seminar, a summer school in the 1950s and 1960s for early-career intellectuals, politicians, journalists, and artists run by Henry Kissinger, who was then a rising political scientist. Like the organizers of countless similar endeavors, Kissinger justified his venture on the grounds that bringing together people of different nationalities would produce "mutual understanding," an aspiration that became commonplace after World War II.
This new mantra was taken up by an extraordinary range and number of groups. They devised programs based on the assumption that intolerance led to enmity and that enmity led to war, whereas tolerance, respect for diversity, and mutual understanding created conditions for a more peaceful world. Thus, for example, the constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), formed in 1945, declared that "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed. . . . Ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war." Mutual understanding was not intended to erase difference but rather to promote the capacity to empathize with the perspectives of others. This cultural broadening was supposed to make peace more likely, though the pathway from understanding to peace was rarely specified.
The Harvard International Seminar was an eight-week program that brought together about forty participants from around the world. They lived together in Harvard's dormitories. They ate meals, attended cocktail parties, toured museums, and watched baseball games together. They took the same classes, listening to lectures by outside experts and seminar students as well as discussing and debating the major problems of the day. The program fostered deep learning and rigorous engagement with international issues. Participants enthused about how well they understood the perspectives of other nationalities after the program.
How can more ephemeral sports events dedicated to physical contests achieve the same kinds of results as intensive educational programs such as the Harvard International Seminar? Athletes interact socially at international sports events, most famously in the Olympic Village, but the raison d'être of these events is competition, which can foster animosity as readily as amity. It is true that elite athletes are often very internationally minded: they have coaches from around the world, travel frequently, and adopt training advances based on research from many countries. But does competing together lead athletes to have greater understanding of other cultures, greater empathy, or greater depth of knowledge about other nations' problems and perceptions? There is remarkably little research to show that it does. Yet our convictions are entrenched. A search of media databases for "sport" and "mutual understanding" from 2008 to 2014 pulls up nearly 1,000 hits in English-language media outlets in over fifty countries.
The claims made for sport are not limited to how they shape the minds of athletes. Major events such as the Olympic Games draw billions of indirect participants who absorb messages while comfortably ensconced on sofas in front of TV screens or computers. Spectators are also supposed to gain in international understanding by watching athletes of different countries competing amicably under equal conditions. It is not entirely far-fetched to suggest that by watching, enjoying, and celebrating the successes of athletes from many countries, even if rejoicing above all in the medals won by their own national representatives, spectators may achieve a deeper appreciation of a common humanity. But again, no rigorous studies have tried to assess such effects.
Sporting competitions are of course also tied to elitism, corruption, doping, extravagant commercialism, and intense rivalries and hatreds. The tenacity with which proponents praise the moral values of international competition may be related to the desire to direct attention away from or conceal the less savory aspects of mega-events—features that might make the large audiences for these events less enthusiastic about them. No other events draw the level of global attention that the Olympic Games and the men's soccer World Cup attract. In 2012, an estimated 70 percent of the world's population participated in some way in the Olympic Games; figures for the 2010 men's soccer World Cup show close to half the world's population watching at least some of the coverage. Corporations pay millions of dollars to associate themselves with images of excellence, fair play, and high achievement. It is telling, then, that the moral claims made around international sport have grown in ambition in tandem with their scale and the revenues they generate.
The moral ambitions associated with international sport have deep roots, thanks to the grandiose visions of Pierre de Coubertin, the French aristocrat who founded the modern Olympic Games in 1894. Coubertin aspired to be a social reformer, and his notions about the benefits of sport were linked to notions about education, the importance of art, the harmonizing of physical and intellectual development, and the value of competition and achievement. He saw sport as a tool to increase national military preparedness but also as a way to promote peaceful internationalism and mutual understanding—though, as critics have pointed out, despite universalist pretensions, his Olympic Games systematically discriminated against women and the working classes. Although many scholars of the Olympic Games refer to a coherent philosophical tradition they call "Olympism," its principles are abstract and diffuse. There is no foundational text, no "Olympic bible." Coubertin's writings are scattered, his ideas were expressed unsystematically, and his influence on broader intellectual thought has been extremely limited.
The organization he founded, the IOC, has attempted to delineate its moral aims with ever greater precision over the last century. Its first charter, in 1908, contained only one reference to "lofty ideals" but no details about what those were. The 2016 charter calls "Olympism" "a philosophy of life" based on "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." In addition to claiming that the practice of sport is a human right, it describes the Olympic "spirit" as one of "mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play," without discrimination of any kind. The charter states that the goal of Olympism is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." Grand goals, indeed.
Both the IOC and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international soccer federation that runs the soccer World Cup, have had recent leaders who believed themselves worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Founded just a decade after the IOC, FIFA also embraced internationalist ideals, though to a much lesser extent. Jules Rimet, who headed FIFA from 1921 to 1954 and started the men's World Cup, was, like Coubertin, a sportsman who saw sport as philanthropy—a means of building good character that could bring moral progress to individuals and friendliness to international affairs. In recent decades, soccer and other competitions have worked much harder to associate themselves with peace initiatives and antiracism efforts, with an eye toward countering corruption scandals and the taint of mammoth commercialism.
We find talk of peace and mutual understanding among enthusiasts of every sport played at an international level, from archery to weightlifting. A typical example is the legendary Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan, who suggested that cricket played "a healing role" when India and Pakistan, two regional powers that have been locked in conflict, were trying to defuse tensions. Writing about a Pakistani cricket team's tour of India in 1999, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan titled his book Cricket: A Bridge of Peace. Khan concluded that "after a lifetime in diplomacy, attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to overcome tension, hostility and conflict," Indians' warm reactions to the Pakistani team convinced him that "cricket's vast untapped energy could be harnessed for understanding and tolerance."
Further evidence of the entrenchment of the sport-peace link is the phenomenon known as sport for development and peace (SDP), which might be likened to a twenty-first-century version of the nineteenth century's muscular Christianity. Kicked off in the heady atmosphere of the 1990s when the Cold War ended and a new world order beckoned, SDP is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of groups and programs that use sport as a tool for development or postconflict reconciliation. SDP programs work toward many different aims, such as improving maternal health, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and encouraging democracy. Many of these programs involve sport for sport's sake: promoting sport because it is supposed to improve health and community cohesion. Hundreds or possibly thousands of organizations around the world have SDP programs that channel billions of dollars in private and government funds to aid efforts. Although SDP is about local sport rather than elite international sport, its moral overtones are entirely consonant with those made by international sport's most vigorous boosters. This alignment explains SDP's enthusiastic embrace by the United Nations (UN), sports organizations including the IOC and FIFA, and corporations eager to showcase corporate social responsibility.
As with other claims made about international sport, very little evidence exists to show that SDP programs are efficacious, despite their rapid spread. One recent review of SDP in Africa concluded that "there is currently no available evidence that supports or refutes the assumption that sport can positively influence development outcomes." Few programs are evidence-based, and few include the kind of monitoring and evaluation that would demonstrate positive effects. The vast majority of the academic research on SDP has been carried out in the developed countries where the researchers reside, and what has been done is often unreliable because donors who fund research are looking for affirmation of positive effects rather than criticism. The traditional development sector, which views meeting basic needs as more urgent than providing leisure activities, has been skeptical of SDP. Recent research suggests that participation in sport yields benefits only in conjunction with programs directly tied to health, education, or employment.
Paradoxically, pervasive rhetoric about peace coexists with its inverse: plentiful talk of war. International sporting competitions are laced with war and military metaphors and are described as battles in which teams might be "destroyed" and honor might be lost or gained. Athletes are called warriors. Coaching rooms are referred to as war rooms. Sport journalism is rife with metaphors of violence. Reciprocally, politicians and military leaders often use sport analogies to sanitize war. The peace/war paradox is similar to the relationship between nationalism and internationalism in sport: international sporting competitions express both, and the potency of sport as a medium for nationalism fuels its power as an internationalist force. The rhetorical power of peace promotion in international sport is intertwined with its kinship to war. Because it showcased physical prowess at a time when military power depended on the health and fitness of human bodies, sport was intertwined with militarism from the earliest days of international sports competitions. The promise of peaceful outcomes sublimate and distract from sport's ties to war. It might even be said that the close relationship of international sport and war makes claims of peace necessary to legitimize sport as entertainment.
If evidence is so lacking, why do so many people around the world continue to believe in international sport's capacity to achieve moral outcomes? This volume explores these questions first by analyzing the most enduring claims made by proponents of international sport and then by focusing on the newest brand of idealism: human rights. The volume aims to examine the functions that these idealistic claims have served, the kinds of politics they have abetted, and why, when, and to whom they have been believable. The chapters make the case that sport mega-events do not merely offer a representation of global order; they also create, reinforce, and propagate normative views about that global order, helping to constitute the moral rules and expectations that guide and inspire it.
The chapters span a range of disciplinary approaches, including history, political science, and anthropology, by scholars from different parts of the world—from the United States and the United Kingdom to Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Korea, and Russia, using sources in Chinese, Korean, Thai, Portuguese, and Russian in addition to English. Some authors specialize in fields other than the study of sport and have brought their expertise to this issue for the first time. Others have spent years studying the social and political dimensions of international sport.
This volume aims to invigorate new conversations in the fields of sport studies, the history of human rights, and the history of internationalism. An enormous body of work covers the political dimensions of the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup. The main lines of inquiry were delineated by Barrie Houlihan in his 1994 Sport and International Politics and have remained little changed since then. Scholars analyze international sport as a vehicle for national prestige and legitimacy, economic interests, and cultural exchange. Increasingly, scholars outside of sport studies have shown an interest in these topics. But as yet there are few studies that locate international sport's idealisms in the context of internationalism more broadly. This volume builds on a growing interest within sport studies in breaking out of the traditional framework of topics and approaches in international politics by situating sport in the realm of ideas and taking it seriously as a vehicle for idealistic internationalism. In doing so, the contributors aim to demonstrate the relevance of sport as an internationalist idiom to the study of internationalism more broadly. This volume also treats the history of human rights in a context that, despite the high global visibility of sport, human rights scholars have entirely neglected.
Part I surveys the most enduring idealistic claims associated with international sport: that sport promotes mutual understanding and friendship, peace, antidiscrimination, and democratic mind-sets and practices. Each author tackles the task not with sweeping generalizations but instead through close analysis of a case study, asking how a particular claim has operated in a particular context. Simon Creak, in looking at the entrenched notion that sports competitions lead to friendship and mutual understanding, surveys the roots of this idea in Coubertin's thought and then tests the idea as it has played out in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, a regional version of the Olympic Games that relies heavily on friendship building for legitimation. Creak, who combined anthropological and historical methods by attending SEA Games, interviewing officials, athletes, and spectators, and researching their history in the archives, finds little evidence that the Games have led to increased regional cooperation, mutual understanding, and friendship in a region beset by rivalries but argues that participants in the SEA Games do experience positive interpersonal bonds. Despite the widespread tendency to anthropomorphize international relations by imbuing them with notions derived from interpersonal relationships such as friendship, there is little evidence that interpersonal bonds formed at sports events translate into international political bonds.
Cross-national sports contacts are not only alleged to promote friendship and mutual understanding, of course, but are also supposed to lead to a more peaceful world. The assumed connection between sport and peace is most strongly exemplified by the close relationship that the IOC has developed with the UN since the 1990s. The UN's core mission is to secure peace, and the UN has embraced the Olympic Games as a means of working toward this goal. But as Roland Burke explains, the convergence between the UN and the Olympics is surprisingly recent. Aside from a UNESCO initiative to take over the staging of the Olympic Games in the 1970s, the two bodies saw little interest in cooperation in the decades after World War II. It was only in the 1990s that the UN looked to associate itself with the IOC in the hope that Olympic virtues would bolster its own credibility. Since then, UN spokespeople have repeatedly invoked versions of the mantra that "Olympic values are UN values." For its part, the IOC, plagued by rising costs and the taint of corruption, saw an alignment with the UN as a way to burnish its own image. The most salient marker of this new rapprochement was the Olympic Truce, introduced in 1993 and reinscribed annually since then. The truce, a reinvention of a tradition from ancient Greece, urges countries at war to call a truce during the Olympic Games. This one small step toward peace is then supposed to lead to more steps. Burke regards the political marriage between the IOC and the UN as "transparently delusional," but the institutional resources invested in the effort point to the enduring potency of this delusion.
Asked to give hard evidence of the beneficial effects of international sports competitions, proponents of global sport most often cite antiracism. Discrimination on the basis of race, politics, and religion has been formally prohibited by the Olympic Charter since 1949. This new provision arose from the global tide that linked racism to the origins of World War II. In that sense, the Olympic Charter's antidiscrimination clause was sibling to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), even if sport was never mentioned during the long months of debate in the declaration's drafting. But like the UDHR itself, the IOC's new provision was mostly hortatory.
Few cases of racism in sport were more clear-cut and egregious than the one presented by apartheid South Africa, because apartheid affected every area of life and injected racial discrimination into every aspect of South Africa's international sporting contacts. Yet as Robert Skinner explains in his chapter on antiracism, the IOC avoided confrontation as long as it could. Only the threat of a major boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games—a boycott supported by the Soviet Union—led the IOC to exclude South Africa, and only continued pressure extended that exclusion. Despite the reluctance with which the ban was pursued, it provided the IOC with considerable moral authority, giving it unearned credence as one of the leaders in the struggle against apartheid.
Exclusion from the Olympics was only one part of the story of antiracism and sport mega-events. The Commonwealth and several international sporting bodies succeeded in cutting most contact with South African sport by the late 1970s. As Skinner explains, sport became a political resource for the many groups fighting against South African apartheid, and the egalitarian claims deeply embedded in sporting discourse became an important tool for those pressing for reform. Sport has sometimes been a site for making or reinforcing racist claims, but the long and highly public battle against apartheid in sport deepened the association between sport and antiracism. When apartheid ended, commentators claimed with some justification that "sport had triumphed over racism." In Skinner's view, this triumph was achieved not because of any inherent morality in sport but instead because of changes in global norms that shaped sport during the process of decolonization.
Sports enthusiasts, at least in democratic countries, have long claimed that international sport is inherently democratic. The rules of sport make it egalitarian: everyone can participate, all participants are subject to the same rules, and winners and losers are determined by merit. American sportswriter John Tunis expressed a common view when he wrote in 1941 that Americans considered democracy and sport "identical" and saw sport as an ideal incubator of democratic behavior. The organizers of the Asia Games during the Cold War made similar claims. Philippine vice president and secretary of foreign affairs Carlos Garcia said in 1954, for example, that the Asia Games were linked to the "permanence of democratic institutions all over the world."
Joon Seok Hong examines how well claims of democracy promotion hold up in the oft-celebrated case of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. These Games coincided with the South Korean transition from dictatorship to democracy, and many observers have cited the intense international media scrutiny brought by the Olympics as the deciding factor in pushing the regime toward peaceful reform rather than repression. When Beijing hosted the Games in 2008, some observers predicted that the same forces might achieve similar results in China. As Hong argues, however, South Korea's democratization had been set in motion long before the Games and was propelled by factors that had little to do with the hosting of the sporting event. In addition, as Hong notes, the IOC has always explicitly disavowed interest in democratization and even sees benefits to having the Games hosted in dictatorships that can easily guarantee public support.
In recent decades, the organizers of sport mega-events have been pressured to adopt more and more causes. Beginning in the 1990s, activists forced organizers of sport mega-events to address environmental degradation. Organizers now consider reducing the amount of waste generated, using renewable energy sources, creating carbon offset schemes, promoting public transportation, reducing water pollution, and much more. At the Olympic Games, "legacy" has become a buzzword. With the costs of staging the Games reaching tens of billions of dollars, much of it used to construct elaborate venues that soon crumble from disuse, sports organizers have begun to take more proactive measures to ensure that hosts include long-term social and cultural planning that provides benefits beyond the short span of the events themselves.
A central contention of this volume, however, is that the next major frontier for idealistic internationalism in sport is human rights. In Part II, contributors assess the potent relationship that has developed between global human rights discourse and sport mega-events. Since the end of the Cold War, human rights has become the world's moral lingua franca, and the 1990s saw the first major campaign to make a sport mega-event compatible with human rights. In ways that are strikingly similar to the pattern established during the apartheid years, the IOC resisted the "intrusion" of human rights, but as those pressures grew and were increasingly taken up by governments as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the IOC has had to adapt. It has now embraced the language of human rights in host city contracts. FIFA and other major sports organizations have also come to accept the basic premise that human rights considerations must be a factor in the staging of international competitions. The debate is no longer over whether human rights are relevant and instead revolves around which human rights, for whom, and how.
Explaining why the two largest human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, came to abandon their early indifference toward sport mega-events, my chapter argues that the end of the Cold War gave human rights groups an incentive to widen their list of targets to include events such as the Olympics. When Beijing bid for the 2000 Olympic Games in 1993, Human Rights Watch was the first to see the Olympic Games as an opportunity to bring human rights discussions to new audiences. That bid failed for reasons that have since been attributed to human rights concerns in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The effects of Human Rights Watch's sustained anti-Beijing campaign are impossible to tie directly to the IOC's final vote, but it is likely that this small NGO can claim significant responsibility for thwarting the ambitions of the world's most populous country. Beijing's second bid—this time successful in winning the 2008 Olympics—brought Amnesty International squarely into the Olympic human rights debate. Many other groups also decided that human rights language was a useful tool in pressing for reform. The chapter suggests that both human rights behemoths should be studied as would any other organization, taking into account organizational dynamics and self-interest instead of assuming altruistic motives. Although the IOC and FIFA have haltingly and reluctantly become more receptive to human rights arguments, serious questions remain about how much they can and are prepared to do to force changes on national governments.
Dmitry Dubrovskiy takes us to the beginning of the current debate over whether the human rights of citizens in host countries should matter to sports events. He examines human rights controversies at the two "Russian" Olympic Games: the Soviet Union's 1980 Moscow Olympics and the Vladimir Putin regime's 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. The 1980 Moscow Games, Dubrovskiy notes, established a familiar pattern. Some observers claimed that holding a major international event such as the Olympic Games in an authoritarian state could be a spur to reform. They argued for using the event to press for openness and dialogue. Others countered that the staging of a major event would provide a rationale for increasing repression. They were convinced that awarding a major event to repressive regimes that did not "deserve" them made the international community complicit in giving those regimes legitimacy and prestige. Dubrovskiy's rich research in Russian-language sources lends support to the latter view for both of these events. The biggest differences he finds between 1980 and 2014 are that the use of boycott threats have receded and that 2014 saw a measure of success: a transnational LGBT rights movement mounted a highly visible campaign that led the IOC to strengthen its antidiscrimination provision.
Jules Boykoff reminds us that human rights violations occur as a direct result of every sport mega-event, not just those hosted by dictatorships. Concerns framed in the language of human rights have been prominent at recent Olympic Games in Atlanta (1996), Salt Lake City (2002), Athens (2004), Vancouver (2010), and London (2012). Forced evictions to clear sites for new construction are a recurrent point of contention no matter where sports events are held, with claims about property rights and due process turning the issue into a contest over rights. Host cities in democratic countries often place security concerns ahead of protections for free speech and the right of assembly by, for example, passing special laws to curtail basic civil liberties. Debates over social and economic issues crop up frequently, notably in recurrent debates over whether economic benefits such as increased tourism can possibly compensate for the mind-boggling sums spent on staging mega-events. But as Boykoff notes, these issues get less traction as human rights issues than do civil liberties, reflecting a strong Western tendency to prioritize civil and political rights over social and economic rights.
No sporting event has generated more controversy than the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which became a flashpoint for human rights concerns. Eschewing the standard terms of the debate, Susan Brownell argues that no one has yet developed the tools to measure the human rights impacts of sport mega-events on hosting countries and that the term "human rights" is probably both too complex and too opaque a rubric to be an assessment tool in any meaningful sense. She chooses instead to map the realm of discourse. In her account, Chinese efforts first to bid for the Olympics in the 1990s and then to host them in the 2000s brought Chinese policy makers and opinion leaders to "engage with the concept of human rights" and adopt elements of international human rights discourse. Brownell's conclusions align with the arguments of advocates for sporting dialogue who contend that hosting mega-events is a force for openness, although she reaches her conclusion through a different logic and with more tentative conclusions. Engagement with hosting the Olympic Games brought human rights concepts into popular discourse in China, she claims, changing "the nature of the conversation between the governed and those who govern," with effects as yet unknown. According to Brownell, we cannot yet measure the effects that the 2008 Games had on human rights, but we can see consequences "in the realm of vocabulary, discourse, and the exchange of ideas."
Taking the story up through 2016, João Roriz and Renata Nagamine examine Brazil's experience hosting two mega-events, first the 2014 FIFA men's World Cup and then the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Both events took place in the wake of large-scale social protests in 2013 and 2014 over long-standing economic and social problems; the 2016 Games came on the heels of major political and economic crises. Through a careful analysis of Brazilian media coverage, FIFA and IOC statements, reports issued by intergovernmental bodies, official statements by the Brazilian government, and the activities of local and international human rights groups, the authors show that by the time the events took place, all sides talked about protecting and promoting human rights, but official and unofficial actors imbued that talk with very different meanings. FIFA organizers spoke about protecting disability rights and working against sexual exploitation and racism. Local groups focused their protests on combating police violence, mitigating problems related to housing and evictions, and protecting free speech. The crucial distinction was that the rights issues touted by organizers conferred value on the sports events—say, endowing them with the capacity to combat racism—whereas pressure groups organized around rights issues that brought into sharp relief the negative repercussions of the events: increased repression from police, housing problems, and restrictions on civil liberties.
As Roriz and Nagamine rightly conclude, human rights constitutes an appealing language to all sides today. It seems to be invested with universal appeal and even the capacity to transcend politics. Human rights appear to have a grounded specificity because they are spelled out in international legal instruments. They seem therefore to offer more solid ground for measuring the moral benefits of international sporting events than the highly amorphous ideals of friendship and peace, whose broader effects on international politics, if they exist, can only be tenuously linked in causal relationships to sporting events. Yet as the chapters in this volume show, human rights is a malleable concept that can be put to highly varied and even contradictory uses. Its increasing use as the language around which sport mega-events are judged will shift the content and flavor of debates but will not provide the grounds for greater certainty about how such events affect our lives.