The director of the organisation Human Rights Watch Germany, Wenzel Michalski, has again criticised the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. He claims that major sporting events never lead to an improvement of human rights in the hosting country. This statement is mostly true.
Frequently, major sporting events are held in countries where human rights organisations consider the situation to be critical. Currently, Qatar is the focus of public attention and criticism due to the upcoming Football World Cup 2022. In this context, the director of Human Rights Watch Germany, Wenzel Michalski, said: “[…] so far, no major sporting event has ever led to an improvement of human rights in the hosting country.”
In an interview with the German newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel”, Michalski refers to the responsibilities of the organisations, such as those of FIFA, but nevertheless clearly rejects a boycott. Nothing would be worse than a country isolated from the public. Boycotts should take place on a diplomatic level only, he argues,for example through the non-presence of political prominence.
In the past, individual countries boycotted tournaments because of political differences, but never for human rights reasons. Whether a boycott would have made sense due to the human rights situation in a host country can therefore not be verified. If we look at the last five Summer and Winter Olympic Games as well as the Football World Cup as the largest sporting events in the world, it is noticeable that countries which seem critical at first sign like China and Russia have regularly hosted tournaments.
|Football World Cup||Olympic Summer Games||Olympic Winter Games|
|2002: South Korea/Japan||2004: Athens, Greece||2002: Salt Lake City, United States of America|
|2006: Germany||2008: Beijing, China||2006: Turin, Italy|
|2010: South Africa||2012: London, United Kingdom||2010: Vancouver, Canada|
|2014: Brazil||2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||2014: Sochi, Russia|
|2018: Russia||2021: Tokio, Japan||2018: Pyeongchang, South Korea|
The Freedom in the World Report shows that the situation there in fact has not improved. It has been published since 1973 and displays the freedom and democracy of 195 countries and 16 territories and countries with limited recognition. The report produces annual scores representing the levels of political rights and civil liberties in each state and territory, on a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free). Depending on the ratings, the nations are then classified as “free”, “partly free”, or “not free”.
A look at past tournaments
China is classified as “not free”. The host of the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics has received a rating of 7 in political rights and 6 in civil liberties since 2001 until today. The reasons are varied and include internet surveillance and heavy sentences handed down to human rights lawyers, microbloggers, activists and religious believers.
South Africa’s ranking has not improved either. During the 2010 World Cup, the country was criticised for human rights abuses during construction. Nevertheless, the country is considered “free”. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, it has been regarded globally as a proponent of human rights and a leader on the African continent. From 2005 to 2006 South Africa’s political rights rating declined from 1 to 2 due to the ruling of the African National Congress party’s growing monopoly and its increasing technocracy.
The last World Cup was held in Russia in 2018. Russia also hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. The country is classified as “not free”. Until 2014, the political rights rating was 6, while the civil liberties rating was 5. From 2014 to 2016, both ratings were 6. From 2017, the political rights rating reached 7, the worst possible rating. The reason for the deterioration is the expanded media controls, a dramatically increased level of propaganda on state-controlled television, and new restrictions on the ability of some citizens to travel abroad. In the case of Qatar, the scores remain constant at 6 for political rights and 5 for civil rights. Despite individual advances, such as the introduction of the labour court and the minimum wage, there is no change in the overall view. It is impossible to predict how the situation will develop, but considering previous tournaments, an improvement is unlikely.
The topic always receives attention just in time for major sporting events, which is why the associations also react: For example, FIFA presented a report on human rights in 2016 and even the German Bundestag debated the human rights situation in various host countries, so the public debate does have an effect. However, despite individual positive changes measured by the world freedom index there have been no improvements in the last 20 years. Therefore, Michalski’s statement is mostly true.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Dunja Fadel & Luisa Käppele, Stuttgart Media University, Germany
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