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Olympic Games and Housing Rights

The Olympic Games have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, disproportionately affecting minorities such as the homeless, the poor, Roma and African-Americans, according to a new report,

"Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights".

published on 5 June 2007 by the ‘Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions’.

The potential of mega-events such as the Olympic Games to foster cooperation and dialogue among the world’s peoples and nations is indisputable. Through the bringing together of humanity in all its diversity to celebrate excellence in sport and other pursuits, such events can promote peace and global solidarity. However, the staging of mega-events can also have the opposite effect. For example, they can result in human rights violations, such as the forced eviction of many thousands of people from their homes, causing severe hardship and misery. This unfortunate, darker side of mega-events stands in stark contrast to the admirable universal ideals that are often cited at their opening ceremonies.

In 2003 the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) raised the alarm on the terrible impact that preparations for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens were having upon multiple Romani communities who were being evicted from their settlements. Our concerns about the suffering being inflicted upon these communities, and the difficulties experienced in getting the Greek authorities to take the problem seriously, reminded us of many others who had been similarly affected by the hosting of major sporting and other events. We had seen this problem before, over and over again, in every city hosting the Olympics; and in many other cities hosting other types of mega-events, such as World Fairs or Expos, IMF conferences, even beauty pageants.

Our anger at the many examples of communities and individuals who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and lands in order to make way for sports stadiums, new hotels, car parks, or pretty façades, prompted COHRE to initiate the Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights Project. One of the aims of this project was to set out the international human rights framework which necessitates the protection of fundamental human rights such as the right to adequate housing, the rights to participation and information, and the prohibitions on forced evictions and discrimination. We wanted to remind mega-event organisers, sponsors, participants and the general public that under international human rights law, numerous stakeholders can and should take responsibility for ensuring the promotion and protection of those rights.

COHRE took the Olympic Games as a case study because forced evictions, discrimination against racial minorities, targeting homeless persons, and the many other effects we noted, are in complete contradiction to the very spirit and ideals of the Olympic Movement, which aims to foster peace, solidarity and respect of universal fundamental principles.

Nobody should be forcibly evicted for the sake of a sporting event. No-one should be displaced due to a cultural celebration. The diversity of a community should not be hidden or moved out of sight in order to host a beauty pageant. Mega-events, including the Olympic Games, can be organised without forcibly evicting people, without criminalising the homeless and without rendering housing unaffordable. Where it appears that displacement of people might be necessary, governments, host cities and international agencies such as the International Olympic Committee have to approach the planning process from a human rights framework, which would include the full participation and full consent of affected communities.

The project’s findings and recommendations are presented in this publication. In particular, I draw your attention to COHRE’s Multi-Stakeholder Guidelines on Mega-Events and the Protection and Promotion of Housing Rights. These Multi-Stakeholder Guidelines provide a pro-active framework for organisers of future mega-events to follow; and a tool for activists to use to hold their cities accountable for protecting housing rights. COHRE’s Multi-Stakeholder Guidelines affirm the principle that mega-events (and the redevelopment that accompanies them) can be used to enhance housing conditions and promote housing rights. It is vital that mega-events are founded on the desire and commitment to promote a positive housing legacy for all sectors of society, especially the poor and marginalised.

From the Forward to : Fair Play for Housing Rights:

PDF downloadable from: Housing Rights

For interviews or additional information please contact COHRE’s Media Officer, Radhika Satkunanathan, on +41-22-7341028, +61-400-899474 or

See also: Displacement of Private Tenants

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