Nesthy Petecio
Nesthy Petecio was a young child who grew up on a farm in the town of Santa Cruz in Davao del Sur in the Philippines. She spent her childhood helping her family make ends meet on their farm. Most of the time, though, this still was not enough and her family struggled to get by. Despite her start in life, Petecio competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a boxer.

A Rough Start to Life

Petecio’s childhood on her family’s farm was not the picturesque version of farm life that books or TV frequently show. Her job to clean up the chicken poop humbled her often. Though the family had a small plot of land, they still had to work hard to maintain the land enough to support their family.

Despite their hard work, there were times when the farm just was not enough. “During that time we really had nothing and we would just borrow money to be able to buy our food,” Petecio told the “Go Hard Girls” podcast in March. Petecio was used to doing almost anything for food, including fighting.

In her neighborhood, she would enter inter-barangay competitions to earn food. The young girl would physically fight in order to get a shot at a good meal for herself. These inter-barangay fights were not anything complicated — they were simply in neighborhood basketball courts, the beach or anywhere else that seemed plausible.

The Spark of a Lifetime

Nesthy Petecio showed promise, and luckily her dad had once dreamed of becoming a boxer himself. He decided to coach her, starting when she was 7 years old. She worked hard and kept fighting through her childhood. Though she only had her dad to help her learn, she continued to develop her craft.

When Petecio was 11, she fought against a male opponent who was much larger and stronger than she was at the time. Though attendees at the match tried to tell her to stop, she was persistent in wanting to continue. Her firmness paid off as she ended up winning the fight.

This fight, along with her drive for the sport, gave her the public boost she needed to receive recognition from the national team and go further with boxing. She saw this as a way out of poverty for her and her family. She began to win international medals at the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Championships in the early 2010s.

Almost Turning Away

In 2016, Petecio failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Further down the line, she experienced defeat early on in the 2018 Asian Games. This was almost too much for her to handle at the time. She told about the depression she faced following her loss. “I was going to look for a job. I was looking for other options,” she said. At that time, I was really feeling down. I was feeling depressed, I was stressed.”

After a break in 2018, she came back strong in 2019 and won the World Championships, proving to herself that she could still compete. The COVID-19 pandemic only gave her extra time to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where she dominated the competition and took home a silver medal for her country. She is the first Filipino woman to win an Olympic medal in boxing.

Nesthy Petecio worked hard for a sport she loved, but also saw an opportunity to live life better than what she was born into. Boxing was her way of doing just that, and becoming an Olympic athlete was more than she could have dreamed of.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Suni Lee and her Legacy on a Secret WarSuni Lee stepped center stage in the 2021 Tokyo games with her gold all-around win for America. Many are celebrating her win as a step forward for Asian representation in America. Furthermore, many are comparing her to the likes of Simone Biles or Gabby Douglas as a gymnastics legend. Her potential legacy reaches far from America to the country where her parents were born: Laos.

Laos and the Hmong People

Laos is in East Asia, in between Vietnam and Thailand. It is one of the few communist countries remaining in Asia. Laos is known as one of the poorest countries in East Asia. It has a population of 6.7 million. The Hmong are about a third of the ethnic community in Laos. The indigenous Hmong people originate from the mountainous areas in Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. As of 2015, about 600,000 live in Laos.

A Secret War

Mass migration of the Hmong people to America occurred about 50 years ago, after the Vietnam war. Suni Lee’s family were among those who migrated. Despite Laos not being a part of Vietnam, it did not escape the devastation of the war. In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. conducted more than 580,000 bombings missions on Laos, making it “the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.” A third of these bombs did not explode immediately, but they did lead to 20,000 injuries and deaths long after America stopped dropping them.

Now, there are about 50 deaths related to these bombs each year, with about 40% of those dying being children. The bombings were a part of the secret war to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao. During this secret war, the U.S. recruited the Hmong people to help fight Southeast Asian communists. Between 30,000 and 40,000 Hmong citizens lost their lives in this effort. After America withdrew from Vietnam and Laos, communist forces punished the Hmong and others for helping the United States. Thousands had to flee their homes to Thailand, with many dying along the journey. Hmong citizens resettled in other countries like America. California and Minnesota, where Suni Lee is from, contain the majority of migrated Hmong people.

The Cost of War

The government of Laos has repressed and committed crimes against the Hmong people since then and without much scrutiny. According to Unrepresented Nations and People Organization, the LPRP, or the Lao People Revolutionary Party, suppresses civil and individual groups opposed to its efforts. It is also the only legal party in the country. Widespread discrimination against ethnic groups like the Hmong includes religious and cultural restrictions. This discrimination leads to poverty, a lack of education and a lack of health care among the Hmong population in Laos. Economic hardship due to the war has placed even more pressure on Laos.

Suni Lee’s New legacy

Suni Lee’s win is for the U.S. and the larger Asian American community, but it could be potentially life-changing for the Hmong community. The Hmong people’s history and impact on U.S. history have been largely unknown to most Americans. Since the start of the Olympics, Google has seen a spike in searches using the word “Hmong.” One of the trending questions after Suni’s gold was “What is Hmong Descent?” Suni Lee is starting to bring more attention to this community through her efforts.

After the migration to America, many Hmong families discouraged sports and other extracurriculars, according to NBC. Suni Lee’s participation in these Olympics could also change that. Many Hmong families drove out to see Suni, who reflects on their past and possible future. Reports say after the success of individuals like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, African American participation in gymnastics skyrocketed. Suni Lee may have the same impact. For now, she is bringing the spotlight to her community.

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and Poverty in JapanThe COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the 15% of people living in poverty in Japan, a figure already on the rise in recent years due to lower consumer spending and a shift to part-time employment. Citizens living below the poverty line are suffering from increased rates of food and housing insecurities. So, as the Japanese government prepares for the Olympics in the summer of 2021, it is also securing opportunities to combat rising poverty.

COVID-19 in Japan

Many policies in place at the beginning of the pandemic neglected the needs of Japan’s impoverished communities. For example, children could no longer receive government-funded meals due to school closures for public health safety. The pandemic has put pressure on the Japanese government to address preexisting social issues and the results will have a lasting positive impact. Collaborating with charitable organizations and businesses, the government has worked around traditional laws and regulations to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Japan.

Food Aid

One initial roadblock to COVID-19 relief was restrictions on who could receive food aid. After a poor harvest of rice in 1993, the Japanese government holds stockpiles of the grain in case of emergency. As part of a program called “food education,” the government releases a portion of this stockpile to schools each year in order to provide school lunches and emphasize the value of food. However, regulations made it difficult to release stockpiles to others in need during the pandemic, especially childless people.

The government is working to find loopholes in the 1993 stockpile law to ensure food security for Japan’s impoverished communities. Stockpiles are now allowed to release 300 kg of uncooked rice per year to each organization, compared to the 60 kg cap in previous years.

Charitable organizations such as Minoshima Megumi no Le in Fukuoka and volunteers at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo have also worked to promote food security for families, refugees and other groups not covered by initial government distributions.

Housing Aid

The pandemic has threatened the safety of Japan’s homeless population. Initially, without adequate access to face coverings or sanitation, more than 4,500 citizens were at serious risk of catching the virus. While the Japanese government offers Livelihood Protection, a program designed to guarantee a minimum standard of living for all citizens, it is difficult to access for some populations in need, including homeless people.

Groups outside the government have also taken the initiative to limit the spread of the virus by providing housing. Across the country, hotels and inns are working to offer affordable shelter. One hotel chain based in Osaka currently offers rooms for ¥390 (about $4) per night. Rooms include a private bed and bath, amenities not found in the Livelihood Protection quarters. This offer helps 100 people at a time find safe living quarters, helping combat the pandemic while also dedicating a space for Japan’s homeless to take refuge for months to come.

Small Businesses and Labor Aid

Japan’s economy depends heavily on human resources, of which, small businesses represent 70%. When stay-at-home orders were implemented, tourist activity halted and consumer spending decreased and the country experienced its first large economic decline since 2015. By February 2021, 1,000 small businesses had closed with 25% located in Tokyo alone. These closures left more than 100,000 people without work, especially in retail, restaurants and manufacturing industries.

The Japanese government passed a record-setting COVID-19 stimulus package equivalent to 40% of Japan’s GDP to protect businesses and their employees. The stimulus allows the government to offer temporary no-interest loan plans to more affected businesses, opening the door for more citizens to receive the aid they need.

In Summary

Pressure from the pandemic has prompted Japan to address existing problems. The government, independent businesses and charities have taken an initiative to help manage the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Japan. Such movements have the potential to continue even after the pandemic, advancing the country’s standard of living for years to come.

Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

How Olympic Athlete Naomi Osaka is Improving Gender Equality
Naomi Osaka is a half Japanese and half Haitian Olympic tennis player who represents Japan in competitions. Osaka has great role models who have supported her throughout her entire life. As such, Osaka understands the immense impact that positive role models can have on young adolescents, especially girls. When girls turn 14 years old, they are estimated to leave sports twice as often as boys their same age. Naomi Osaka is improving gender equality through her love of sports by positively impacting young people’s lives and creating a space for people to embrace their culture. Furthermore, Osaka’s foundation and others are working hard to build classrooms, tennis courts and more to help alleviate global poverty.

Naomi Osaka Play Academy

The Naomi Osaka Play Academy is an initiative founded last year that aims to change girls’ lives through play and sport. Osaka wanted to start the initiative in Tokyo knowing how impactful role models were to her at a young age. Additionally, Play Academy has provided grants and gender-inclusive training to three organizations that empower young girls. Its success expanded to Los Angeles where Osaka aims to ensure that Black, Asian and Latinx communities have more opportunities to engage in sports. The initiative has proven to be extremely successful. As such, Osaka began working within communities in Haiti, where her father is originally from.

Play Academy in Haiti

About 90% of Haitian adolescents report never having played a sport before. Fortunately, Play Academy has partnered with GOALS Haiti to reach this underrepresented demographic. Osaka believes in empowering young adolescents in Haiti to embrace diversity. The initiative has allowed for the construction of classrooms, tennis courts and it has sent many children abroad to expand and improve studies. Furthermore, Play Academy and GOALS Haiti aim to improve and advance youth leadership. Both organizations share the same goal of promoting gender equality through soccer and education while creating stronger and healthier communities in rural Haiti.

Naomi Osaka believes it is incredibly important to have women in leadership positions. Women including Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris are just a few leaders that have influenced Osaka in her life. She hopes athletes including herself and Serena Williams, who own National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) teams, will inspire young girls all around the world.

Osaka is improving gender equality worldwide by promoting a passion for sports and giving children opportunities to enjoy participating in sports. Osaka is unique as a Japanese national while directly resonating with Haitian communities. Acknowledging the importance of having role models, Osaka hopes that her and others’ work will help alleviate poverty. She also hopes it helps girls create a more equitable future while nurturing and inspiring the world’s next athletes.

Mio Vogt
Photo: Flickr

Nigerian Curling
In Lagos, Nigeria in the mid-1800s, British colonial cartography resulted in the drawing of many inappropriate boundaries across the African region. Nigeria serves as a token example as more than 200 self-identified tribes currently exist in the populous Sub-Saharan country. The three tribes with the most influence, the Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos have demonstrated significant friction since the country’s freedom from British rule in 1960. This perpetual conflict is so serious that it even helped spark an attempt of eastern secession in 1967 known as the Biafran War or the Nigerian Civil War. Luckily, Nigerian curling may serve a purpose in unifying the country.

Sport: The Great Unifier

Beacons of hope still shine over the quest for national unity through organizations that promote cooperation and Nigerian pride. Nigerians universally accept one unifier which is sports. Nigeria’s humid climate might seem to render its winter-sports participation impossible. Yet despite these climate restrictions, Nigeria presented both a women’s bobsled team and a skeleton racer at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Nigeria hopes to yield a curling team in addition to its aforementioned fleet. The Nigerian Curling Federation, approved by the World Curling Federation in 2018, is actively making these dreams a reality.

Curling and other sports, in general, have the potential to increase national pride while decreasing tribal pride, the latter of which is a significant roadblock in Nigerian attempts towards national unity. There is a normalization of stereotypes about the respective tribes, which feeds large cultural prejudices on each side. This adds to an overarching sense of hostility between the different ethnic groups in the country, which has historically manifested itself in violence as serious as the killing of more 40 people in street-fighting riots between the Yorubas and the Hausas in 1999. As Rachel Odusanya writes, “tribes can misunderstand each other because of their different worldviews, and this is one of the biggest social problems in Nigeria nowadays.”

Christopher Neimeth, Social Injustice and Poverty

This dream involves more than just curling through, as it contains the potential to advance a much-needed togetherness for the Nigerian people. To dig deeper, The Borgen Project spoke to Christopher Neimeth, a member of the curling team who lives in America but has Nigerian citizenship. Not so long ago, he traveled to Lagos, Nigeria’s queen city, with his father to help the rising club gain traction by delivering curling clinics. Neimeth, whose father has Nigerian origins, is sharing his affinity for the sport bearing the positive social implications behind it in mind.

When asked how he thought sports, particularly curling, could remedy some of the social injustice so tightly wound in Nigeria’s current social climate, Neimeth responded optimistically. He conceded that his upbringing in America naturally makes it impossible to grasp the true extent of its cultural issues, but he still believes curling offers a lot to the country. Through the amalgamating nature of sports, Neimeth argues that curling presents a unique opportunity to promote a sense of national pride, while simultaneously creating opportunities for the athletes through travel, professional opportunities and sponsorships, etc.

Additionally, the presence of sports can help reduce the high stress that is an inherent byproduct of extreme poverty. In a country like Nigeria, where more than 86 million people currently live in conditions of extreme poverty, programs like this are important to sustain hope and positive environments. The Nigerian Curling Federation’s clinics provide a safe space for youth that may otherwise turn to crime or drug use.

The underdog premise behind a Nigerian curling team appearing in the 2022 Olympics could amplify the country’s excitement, dismantling previously fortressed barriers between the country’s different peoples.

Liam Manion
Photo: Flickr

Canadian athletesOften acknowledged for achievements in their particular area of expertise, athletes are, ordinarily, the most recognized people in the world. Consequently, it is significant when athletes use their status to bring attention to global issues as well as transform lives in their communities. Here are three Canadian athletes who make a difference.

Clara Hughes

This dual-season Olympian is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. As a cyclist, Hughes competed in the 1996 Olympic Games where she earned bronze in both the road race and time trial. She also finished sixth in the time trial in Sydney. In 2002, she returned to her first sport, long track speed skating and won a bronze medal in the 500m in Salt Lake City.

A documentary about Right to Play’s work in Uganda inspired Hughes to donate $10,000 from her personal savings to their programs. By encouraging other Canadians to donate to this international humanitarian organization, Hughes helped raise more than half a million dollars. In Uganda, more than a third of all inhabitants live below the poverty line, including children, the primary victims of this economic situation. Frequently, their families cannot ensure their health or well-being particularly in remote regions of the country.

Following her win in Vancouver 2010, Hughes donated $10,000 to Take a Hike, an adventure-based education that offers at-risk youth a better chance at life. The program supports hundreds of young people in altering their lives by combining academics with outdoor activities, in addition to therapy and community volunteering.

Currently the national spokesperson for Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, Hughes created Clara’s Big Ride which focuses on raising awareness of mental health issues throughout Canada.

Steve Nash

Canadian professional basketball player Steve Nash plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. As an eight-time NBA All-Star and two-time recipient of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, Nash led the league in assists five times.

The Steve Nash Foundation, started by Nash and his family in 2001, devoted its time to assisting underserved children on a global level. The heart of their aid organization was a focus on education, enjoyment of life, health and personal development. The Nash Foundation operates as two separate private establishments: a registered Canadian charity in Victoria, British Columbia, and a U.S. charity headquartered in Arizona. Through the foundation’s platform, Nash works to increase access to critical resources and provide a basis for health and strength in communities across Canada, Paraguay, Uganda and the U.S.

The infant mortality rate in Paraguay is four times that of the U.S. While Paraguay’s hospitals treat thousands of children, they still lack access to equipment and training which has a devastating effect on health. The war in Uganda prompted Nash to co-found Football for Good, a nonprofit business that opened a Centre for Sport and Rehabilitation in northern Uganda. Nash hoped that the center would create a sense of optimism for the children caught in the chaos. The center offers sports, arts and drama programs besides counseling for children and adults affected by war.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser, a five-time Olympic medalist, is an award winner, community leader, history-maker and mentor. Selected at 15 years old for the Canadian Women’s National Team, Wickenheiser is considered one of the best female hockey players in the world. Wickenheiser led the squad to six gold and one silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Furthermore, she won four Olympic gold medals during the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. As the first female hockey player to score a point in a men’s professional game, Wickenheiser made history.

A passion for sports matched with a desire to make a difference, Wickenheiser works with organizations such as Project North and Right to Play. Project North is a not-for-profit dedicated to improving the lives of children in northern Canada. The vision is to create recreational opportunities for Inuit children living in remote Canadian communities, providing stimulating experiences rooted in play, sport and education.

In 2007, a team of Canadian Olympic athletes, alongside Wickenheiser, traveled to Rwanda for Right to Play and on a related mission to Ghana, returned to Africa in 2011. Right to Play allows children to rise above the challenges of child labor, early marriage, inequality, illiteracy and violence. Their mission is to encourage children to rise above adversity through the power of sport, games, creative and free play. Right to Play believes that staying in school teaches children dignity, respect and empowerment.

Athletes are fortunate to have an opportunity to do what they love for a living. Nevertheless, many children, as well as adults, admire athletes who set an example on how to pay it forward on a global level. These three Canadian athletes are making a difference by their efforts to create a better existence for children around the world.

Colette Sherrington
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

tourism in kenyaDuring the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Kenya once again proved its dominance in the realm of track and field. And, the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism hopes that this success will continue to promote one of the fastest growing industries in the world, sports tourism in Kenya.

According to an article published by CNN, tourism in Kenya produces about $6 billion a year, but the recent rise in terrorism has hurt the industry. Government organizations have begun to focus on sports tourism as a solution to this downturn in the country’s economy.

The beauty, history and culture of East African countries, combined with the popularity of their native athletes has allowed sports tourism in Kenya to prosper in the past few years. Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed, the principal secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, stated, “our sportspeople put the country on the global map.”

Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha, commonly known as “the King”, solidified his place as one of the greatest athletes in the world when he won the men’s 800-meter race in Rio, his second gold medal in that event after setting the world record during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. However, Rudisha is not only known for his abilities on the track, but he has also become one of Kenya’s most prominent ambassadors for tourism.

Kenya offers attractions for all types of tourists, including world-class athletes, dedicated fans and curious travelers. The famous town of Iten, Kenya located in the Great Rift Valley is one of the country’s most popular destinations. This high altitude attraction is most famous for being the training ground of countless decorated Olympic runners, including Rudisha. Lornah Kiplagat, a world champion runner, founded Iten’s High Altitude Training Center, which is now visited by both training Olympians and casual runners from across the world.

While Iten is an enormous draw for many tourists, Kenya is looking to expand the industry by building on many of their already popular events. The annual Maralal Camel Derby is a world-renowned race that attracts local and international spectators, with all proceeds going toward local communities. The Lewa Marathon, which is known as one of the world’s toughest marathons, also raises money for conservation and community projects.

The country is hopeful that sports tourism in Kenya will be a viable industry heading into the future. The country will continue to host sports events and clinics, while star athletes such as David Rudisha inspire fans to visit and experience the beautiful home of Olympic legends.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

Zambia has sent 166 athletes to the Olympic games since 1960. Of those two have earned medals—a silver in Atlanta for the 400-meter hurdles and a bronze in Los Angeles for boxing. Zambia, along with many other African countries, has never sent a rower to any Olympic games.

Zambian rower Antonia Van Deventer is hoping to change that in Rio 2016.

In July of 2011, Van Deventer and several international level scullers (rowers who use two oars instead of one) embarked on a journey to row 1,000 kilometers down the Zambezi River. The expedition, which took about 20 days, was wrought with obstacles from crocodiles to white water rapids.

“The aim is to promote grassroots sport—in particular, rowing,” said Van Deventer on the eve of the expedition.

Once the expedition closed, the best Van Deventer hoped for was that the boats used for the journey would be left behind for the benefit of the communities among the Zambezi.

In 2015, she can expect to get something better, as FISA (the international governing body for rowing competitions) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have collaborated to build a state of the art rowing and research center on Zambia’s Kafue River.

As a major tributary of the Zambezi River, the Kafue is responsible for powering much of Zambia’s limited industry through a hydropower system. It is the main source of water, both for drinking and agricultural use for the communities that line its shores.

When the WWF became concerned about the degradation of the Kafue’s fresh-water ecosystem, they turned to FISA in hopes that sport could help promote ecological awareness and health in Zambia.

“The competing claims on the water of the Kafue River are a microcosm of what is happening in many parts of the world. The region is experiencing a conflict in demand from the population’s need for clean water…the lessons we learn from studying this ecosystem and interacting with all stakeholders will be valuable for use in Kafue and all around the world,” said Bart Geenen, a Senior Water Expert at WWF.

FISA is also optimistic about the opportunities that the sport of rowing can bring to Zambian athletes of all levels; from children to Olympic hopefuls like Van Deventer:

“We can use this Centre to help develop our sport in this region,” said Christophe Rolland of the World Rowing Federation. “It will provide a resident facility for the nearby schools and universities as well as rowers from universities around the world who can conduct their water research.”

What does a research and rowing center mean for Zambian citizens? The Kafue River and Rowing Center presents a unique opportunity to fuse the natural and athletic components of rowing with health outcomes in Zambia.

A 2010 Global Burden of Disease study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation named gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease) as significant barriers to global health.

By promoting clean water research at the Kafue River and Rowing Center, scientists may be able to improve water quality and significantly cut down on the instances of intestinal disease. Additionally the aerobic and muscular benefits that come from rowing may help promote more long-term health in Zambian communities.

Emma Betuel

Sources: The Lancet, Rudern, World Rowing 1, World Rowing 2
Photo: worldrowing

Newly Formed "Sports & Rights Alliance" Advocacy Group-TBP
The Sports & Rights Alliance (SRA) is a newly formed coalition of NGO’s focused around preserving human rights in relation to global sporting events. The list of issues the SRA advocates for includes, but is not limited to: ending citizen displacement from sport infrastructure, imprisoning protesters, exploitation of workers, unethical bidding practices and environmental destruction.

The SRA is composed of various international NGO’s such as Amnesty International, FIFPro – World Players’ Union, Football Supporters Europe, Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, Supporters Direct Europe, Greenpeace, Transparency International Germany and Terre des Hommes.

This past February, the SRA penned a letter to the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stressing an adherence to the principles regarding the 2020 and 2024 games. The approved standards mandated by the International Labor Organization was a point of emphasis in addition to increased oversight and inspections for human rights conditions. For the bidding process, the letter requested robust efforts to maintain and enforce ethical business and anti-corruption in choosing a host city.

The IOC met this past February in Brazil to discuss “Agenda 2020,” the strategic outline for the future of the Olympics, which was passed by the committee in December of 2014. The closing of bid registration for the 2024 Olympic games is set for September of 2015 so the timing is most appropriate.

Many recent international games have come under intense scrutiny for similar violations. Free speech issues and poor treatment of their LGBT community has cast many questions and doubts regarding Russia’s selection as 2018 World Cup host. The 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were tarnished due exploitation of workers, suppression of free speech and corruption. The SRA cites these as examples of a divergence from what international sport and competition should stand for and symbolize.

Additionally, the inaugural European Games are currently being held in Baku, Azerbaijan causing concern and objection throughout the continent. The country has a questionable human rights record and in recent months, government protesters, human rights advocates and international journalists have been detained and imprisoned on inflated charges. This causes great concern for the international community and for Europe in particular.

Another letter written to the President of the European Olympic Committee stressed the immediate and unconditional release of all current activists and journalists who are imprisoned. Furthermore, the letter called for an end to ongoing intimidations, detainments and persecutions of the aforementioned individuals.

FIFA’s selection of Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host has also been met with serious concern and criticism. In lieu of a pre-existing Football infrastructure, the country has relied upon migrant laborers to build multiple stadiums to host the Cup. This arrangement of labor is common throughout the Arabic Peninsula and known as the “kafala” system and is likened to modern day slavery.

FIFA has been inconsistent in their actions to condemn working conditions. The organization has stated their concern for the workers welfare, but also deny responsibility for their treatment. Referring to the government contractors, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, is quoted as saying “they are responsible for their workers.”

Before the FIFA Presidency election, the SRA wrote to President Sepp Blatter and his three opponents citing their grave concern for the condition of the workers. The letter included a questionnaire about their views on the current state of human rights in their sport. It also called for the victor in the election to take action to rectify any violations in the first 100 days of their presidency.

The SRA has proven to quickly become a powerful voice in international sports relations and gathered a following through their advocate efforts. Regarding the allegiance to human rights principles, the SRA have consistently ended their letters by saying, “All these standards should not be based on goodwill, but must be non-negotiable and absolutely binding for all stakeholders.”

The Borgen Project

Sources: The Globe And Mail, Human Rights Watch 1, Human Rights Watch 2, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian


The purported benefits of hosting mega-events such as the Olympics have been increasingly criticized by economists and journalists, and questions are being raised. Are the host nations for the Olympics or similar events making a good investment? Could the money be better leveraged to help the poor via other means? What makes hosting mega-events beneficial or not?

The costs of hosting the Olympics used to be small, in the millions of dollars. In the past few decades, this has not been the case. Billions of dollars are poured into infrastructure projects and other related costs in order to create the environment for hosting the Olympic Games.

The huge investment and sunk costs put into hosting the Olympics are not always returning the same value. The stadiums built for the events are often left unused and in a state of decay within only a few years of the events. With little demand for such a large amount of new sports infrastructure, the huge construction costs rarely pay for themselves in the long run.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as the “Olympic Effect”—trade openness and overall transactions tend to increase for the host country following the Olympics. Prestige and attention is also granted to the host country, as the Olympics are a chance to showcase the host’s best qualities and cultural attractions. This is important—but is it worth the cost? Many would say it probably is not.

The Sochi Winter Games cost Russia $50 billion, the highest costs of all time for an Olympics Game. The national economy benefited negligibly from the Games but the regional effect may have indeed had some positive impact. Because of the expected increase in tourism and guests in the region, infrastructure of all kinds had to be upgraded to be able to accommodate the flash flood of spectators and athletes. This could mean a long-lasting positive impact on certain regions of the country, even if the new infrastructure is underused afterwards.

The more recent Olympic Games have been held in emerging economies such as Russia and China, with Brazil upcoming. This trend away from more developed nations such as the United States and European countries is important to recognize. Government spending is particularly important for these developing nations. Investing wisely is the name of the game for economic development, and the Olympics net return on investment is questionable at best. This is not a good sign for these countries. For example, Brazil built massive stadiums in small cities for the World Cup that had no use for them past the mega-events for which they would be used. The government even cleared out favelas (slums) in order to build new infrastructure and gentrify city outskirts. It begs the question, is it possible that Brazil should be using the billions of dollars to help those in the favelas and others like them, rather than build massive stadiums? These are the questions that emerging economies must consider carefully when they make the investment that most economists consider an economic net loss.

Norway recently withdrew its bid for the 2022 Winter Games due to concerns that the cost would be too large and a lack of public support. The lack of evidence that the Olympics produce the economic benefits advertised is a message that must be heeded. The hidden costs of hosting mega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are especially prominent to a developing economy like Brazil. First, they might end up losing money and, secondly, that money could have been leveraged to a much greater degree. Just imagine if instead of hosting the Sochi Games, Russia had the same enthusiasm for spending $50 billion—but on social and job-training programs designed to reduce poverty within their own borders. These are the hidden costs of hosting mega-events.

– Martin Yim

Sources: NBER, The Economist, International Business Times, Reuters
Photo: NPR