Olympics and World Cup soccer must take up cause of right to housing – UN expert

9 March 2010
Photo: Matthew Trump

The Olympic Games and the football World Cup must champion the right to adequate housing, with such ‘mega-events’ often driving people out of their homes, according to a new United Nations report by an independent human rights expert.

“I am particularly concerned about the practice of forced evictions, criminalization of homeless persons and informal activities, and the dismantling of informal settlements in the context of mega-events,” said Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.

Stepped-up demand for space to erect sports venues, hotels and roads can result in the demolition of existing buildings.

“The importance given to the creation of a new international image for the cities, as an integral part of the preparations for the Games, often implies the removal of signs of poverty and underdevelopment through reurbanization projects that prioritize city beautification over the needs of local residents,” said the new report, released yesterday.

Displacement can also arise from steps taken by local authorities to swiftly remove unsightly slums from areas visible to visitors, it noted, citing how 15 per cent of the population of Seoul, Republic of Korea, was evicted and 48,000 buildings torn down to prepare for the 1988 Olympic Games.

Redevelopment can also sharply reduce the availability of social and low-cost housing, including State-subsidized residences, the publication pointed out. In Atlanta, United States, 1,200 social housing units for the poor were destroyed in the run-up to the 1996 Olympics, while it is possible that plans to build hundreds of thousands of new low-cost homes could be affected by shifting budget demands ahead of this summer’s FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

Mega-events, Ms. Rolnik said, “can be an opportunity to potentially enhance the right to adequate housing” by promoting infrastructural and environmental improvements for host cities.

But redevelopment projects all too often result in extensive human rights violations, she underscored.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has adopted the Olympic Movement Agenda 21, which, among other elements, seeks to fight social exclusion.

For its part, FIFA has stressed the need to promote sustainable development through football and has committed itself to promoting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight anti-poverty targets agreed upon by world leaders with a 2015 deadline.

The report called on both bodies to consider the consequences of mega-events on the enjoyment of human rights. The selection of host cities should be open to scrutiny by civil society, and housing provisions should be incorporated into any hosting agreements – which must be in line with international and national standards – entered into.

Authorities must protect people from forced evictions, discrimination and harassment, as well as provide redress for victims, it added.

Ms. Rolnik, an architect and urban planner, was appointed as Special Rapporteur in 2008. She serves in an unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.