Sport is a Human Right

I was exploring Buzzfeed today and saw an article in the sidebar titled "International Olympic Committee Says Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Won't Be Enforced At Olympics"- I was intrigued. Here's the deal- the Russian government is implementing a series of laws that could mean fines or even temporary imprisonment of foreigners for the "promotion of non-traditional sexual relations."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has responded to these laws and the claims from the Russian government that "the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games." This is not enough of an assurance for the IOC- they are looking for more "ironclad" confirmation that these new laws will not apply to watchers and participants of the 2014 Sochi Games.

This is a classic case of national laws versus international norms, and it is unsurprising to me that it has to do with human rights. Remember the controversy over human rights abuses preceding the 2008 Beijing Games? What about the Olympic Project for Human Rights, established to advocate for racial desegregation during the 1968 Mexico City Games? (if you haven't heard of it, you at least know of the Black Power salute). Human rights are thrown into the spotlight when the Olympics come to town, and host countries best be prepared to put their best foot forward or else hide their human rights skeletons very, very well.

In the case of Russia, I can only speculate as to what will occur. As with other Games marred with unsavory policies, some countries will boycott. There will be international outcry and pressure to change national politics. Russian officials may even claim long-term change is on the way- but business will most likely go back to the usual after the Games leave. The Olympics have a knack of creating a protective bubble for onlookers and athletes during the duration of the Games. Sometimes, that bubble is penetrated, as we saw in the 1968 Games. Foreigners may be immune from the anti-LGBT laws, but not for long.

"Sport is a human right." The IOC may believe this, but they are running into the same roadblock as other international law advocates. International human rights are a fantastic idea, but how do you define them? How do you enforce them? What does it mean to say that "sport is a human right?" A human right is taken to mean that certain freedoms are guaranteed to humans (or, conversely, humans are inherently exempt from certain practices as well). Thus, the IOC means to say that all humans have the right to participate in sport free from discrimination based on, well, just about anything. This is an interesting concept to me because I believe sport is one of the few things left that has the power to connect people regardless of borders. Yes, politics play a role. Yes, discrimination sometimes occurs. But sport allows people to engage in competition without violence, and the winner (in a fair game scenario) is based on skill and sometimes luck.

Does this mean that sport is one of the few ways that people can influence international relations and potentially make an impact on issues abroad? This is a compelling question. Whether this will occur in Sochi in 2014 is a bit less ambiguous.

Do you believe that sport is a human right? (comment below!)


  1. I wonder why you think that there might be boycotts. After all, it seems like boycotts are a thing of the past. I may be missing something, but according to my 5-second google search that the last serious boycott was in 1988 when North Korea refused to go to South Korea (and for some reason Seychelles went along with this, along with Cuba and Nicaragua)

    Have boycotts ever emerged over a human security issue like discrimination? Or have boycotts only occurred when geopolitical rivalries are in play? IE US-Soviet Union in 1980-1984. I dont know if states or committees can send a credible signal of boycotting anymore.

  2. The mention of boycotts actually comes from the article itself- it doesn't specify who is calling for boycotts, just that they may occur.

    I think you are correct in that boycotts generally occur over political issues (i.e, Cold War) and not human rights. Countries that generally promote human rights may dislike Russian politics, but I don't believe a massive boycott will occur.


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