The Olympic Curse: Protecting Olympic Dream for Host Cities and Their Inhabitants

Author:Ankur Shingal
Position:The University of Chicago Law School
e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
© 2014 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
rst published online 24 March 2014
Note. Author would like to thank Professor Tom Ginsburg for both his direction and
advice throughout the process of writing this article.
The University of Chicago Law School
e Olympic Games are a study in contrasts. Often thought to be a blessing for host
cities—an opportunity to recreate themselves and welcome the world in the name of
international cooperation and sport—it has also become something of a curse for both
the city, its inhabitants, and the Olympic Movement in general. Unfortunately for
human rights advocates, the Olympics have developed a dark side in which the powers
at be, most specically the International Olympic Committee, favor magnicent
Games over the human rights violations that occur in creating that magnicence.
Since the human rights situation has not improved from one Olympiad to the next,
this Article argues that the international community must pressure the IOC to better
take into account human rights issues when selecting host cities. Specically, this
article revisits and adds to previous scholarship by discussing ramications of the
Games on host city inhabitants. It also provides a roadmap for how the international
community can pressure the IOC to better take into account human rights issues for
future Olympiads.
Keywords: Olympic Games, Human Rights, Sports Law, International Law, the Law of
Ankur Shingal
e Olympic Games, a biennial coming together of nations and their
athletes, are the largest, and arguably the most globally unifying, sporting
mega-event in the world.1 Indeed, in sheer scope alone, the games are
the largest sporting “celebration in terms of the number of sports on the
programme, the number of athletes present and the number of people
from dierent nations gathered together at the same time in the same
Hand-in-hand with the popularity of the Games is the undeniable
eect of the Olympics on the host country, and more specically, the host
city.3 e host city, both during the build-up to the Olympic Games and
especially during the sixteen days4 during which the Games are held, is
under intense international scrutiny.5 e scrutiny can be both positive
and negative. It is advantageous in that the host city is presented the
opportunity to welcome the world, and show that it represents what has
become a modernized and developed society.6 At the same time, the notable
1. Maximos Malfas, Eleni eodoraki, & Barrie Houlihan, Impacts of Olympic Games
as meg-events, 157 M. E’ 209, 210 (2004), available at http://epress.lib.
pdf?sequence=1 (stating that a “mega-event can be viewed in two main respects:
rst, with regard to its internal characteristics—that is, primarily its duration and
its scale (i.e. number of participants and spectators, number of individual sessions,
and levels of organizational complexity); and second, in respect of its external
characteristics, which mainly take account of its media and tourism attractiveness,
and its impact on the host city.”).
2. T O M, T M O G 2 (2nd ed., 2007),
available at
3. See generally Steven Rosenblum & John Dietrich, e Impact of the Summer Olympics
on its Host City: e Costs Outweigh the Tangible Benets, e Honors Program,
Senior Capstone Program (Apr. 2009), available at http://digitalcommons.bryant.
edu/cgi/ viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=honors_history.
4. Int’l Olympic Comm. [IOC], Olympic Charter, Chapter 5, Bye-law r. 32 (Sept. 9,
2013), available at
5. See e.g., Jaimie Etkin, London Olympics 2012 Ratings: Most Watched Event
in TV History, HP TV (Aug. 13, 2012), available at http://www.
hu ondon-olympics-2012-ratings-most-watched-
ever_n_1774032.html (stating that the London Olympic Games was the most
watched event in television history).
6. See Malfas, supra note 1, at 209 (stating: “e increasing number of cities bidding
The Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law Volume I Issue 2 (2014) at. 572–607
Ankur Shingal
media attention provides a window through which the international
community can become keenly aware of the country’s shortcomings and
the population’s unhappiness with the ruling government.7 Regardless of
the balance that any specic host nation is able to strike in regards to
positive versus negative international attention, there can be no question
that the impact of hosting the Games is a signicant, if not a watershed,
moment in a country’s history.8
However, thanks in large part to the human rights backlash regarding
the recent 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, segments of the international
community have, more so than in times past, begun to focus on the
human rights implications of the sporting spectacle on the host nation
and its citizens.9 In the build-up to the Beijing Olympics, human rights
advocates and agencies, along with segments of the international media,
decried the IOC’s decision to award the Games to China despite the
country’s dismal human rights record. For example, Human Rights
Watch (“HRW”) extensively documented human rights violations that
were perpetrated by the Chinese Government in relation to the country’s
hosting the Games, focusing on the issues of media censorship, forced
evictions of Chinese citizens, abuse of migrant construction workers,
and the silencing of civil society and rights activists.10 Due to the human
rights fallout of those Games, many entities are beginning to scrutinize
to host the Olympics and the increasing funds invested in Olympic bids indicate
that local leaders perceive the securing of such an event as an opportunity to
improve economic and social aspects of a city or region through the accumulated
investment triggered by staging the Games”).
7. See, e.g., Jenny Barcheld, Confederation Cup Protests Target Match in Rio,
HP W (June 30, 2013), available atngtonpost.
com/2013/06/30/confederation-cup-protests_n_3526184.html (stating that over
one million people, taking advantage of the international attention during the
2013 Confederations Cups, protested against the Brazilian government’s spending
billions of dollars in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a sporting mega-
event, instead of improving public works within the country).
8. See, e.g., Owen Gibson, Japanese Bid’s Passion Earns Tokyo the 2020 Olympic
Games, T G (Sept. 7, 2013), available at
sport/2013/sep/07/ tokyo-2020-olympic-games (“[w]hen Tokyo rst hosted the
Olympics in 1964, it was seen as a coming out party for a country recovering from
the ravages of war . . .”).
9. See, e.g., H. R. W, Integrating Human Rights in the Olympic Process, (Feb.
23, 2009), available atles/related_material/
10. Id. at 1-2.

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