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How can we resolve sportswashing?

Like most, I’ve recently been shocked at the human rights concerns of the current Qatar 2022 World Cup after hearing about the shocking accusations of worker’s passports being confiscated after they were forced to work excessive hours and being denied wages, and the lack of LGBTQ rights. A new term that has been used to describe the Qatar 2022 World Cup, ‘sportswashing’- is where a country which has particularly poor human rights uses sport to create positive headlines.

I wanted to examine into the issue in more detail of human rights in sport and what needs to be changed in the industry to be able to overcome the issue of poor human rights in internal elite sporting events.


Sport offers an unparallel opportunity to reach out to more people than ever as it has the popularity to reach many people as it has a strong power both at the grass roots and at international level, so it has the effect to cause major societal change as a large scale mutli-billion pound industry. Therefore, it can be used as a successful podium for fighting racism, sexism, homophobia as well as standing up for the rights of workers and to empower human beings particularly in marginalised groups. Many governing bodies base their fundamental values and objectives on basic human rights, for example, one of the Olympic charter’s key values is ‘respect’.

However, sport can also negatively impact people’s lives and can violate basic human rights. There are stories of workers suffering inhumane conditions and even risk their lives as they rush to meet the deadline to construct a state-of-the-art stadium where they work in hazardous conditions sometimes without being paid their full wage. Vulnerable young athletes can also be subject to harassment and abuse in training for a sport they love, women banned from stadiums and athletes being barred from competition due to their gender identify. These have all been headlines of the news over recent high-profile elite sporting competitions.


A case study of a high-profile elite sporting competition where human rights policies were broken was the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Human rights were violated due to the eviction of people from their homes to make space for the Olympic Park facilities as well as the majority of construction workers being migrant workers who work in dangerous environments who were unpaid and had no medical and accident insurance. Furthermore, China also blocked sites with controversial information about the games. There were also concerns about the safety of food products that were served to the athletes as there was concerns surrounding the meat that was raised in China having enough steroids to test positive for steroid use- therefore countries including the USA imported their own food for the athletes.


There needs to be a significant and systematic change within the world of sport to prevent a scandal similar from happening again. It must be ensured that in the future host countries and cities must be awarded on the basis of basic human rights and values that athletes and fans expect them to share. After the Beijing 2008 Olympic games, you would have thought the IOC had learnt to not host future games in the same city, however, Beijing won the bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Many organisations challenged the choice of the IOC to hold the event in the city again.

I believe there needs to be a larger effort to embed human rights regionally, nationally and internationally by both governments and sporting governing bodies to create a zero-tolerance environment for violating human rights in the industry of sport. Although the Olympic Charter contains bylaws to remain politically neutral, sport as an industry has a responsibility to respect human dignity of all those involved. Legal commitments need to be made by the host country to ensure human rights are not violated and the countries are penalized for disobeying the human rights regulations. This will create an environment where people become united across borders and we can bridge social, cultural and economic divides.

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