This is the first installment of Josh Leon’s ongoing column, which takes a global view of issues facing cities.
The International Olympic Committee, which is fresh off of allowing one of the largest forced slum clearances in history, is offering an atonement of sorts. It just signed an agreement with UN Habitat to bring youth sports programs to the world’s urban slums. IOC president Jacques Rogge said that the program will “focus on the urban poor: millions of people, particularly children in the slums, for whom sport can bring escapism and hope.”
The move was hailed by UN Habitat’s director, Anna Tibaijuka, as “an important step forward in meeting the challenges of sustainable urbanization.” This is all well and good. Hopefully the IOC can make a genuine difference promoting sports in urban districts with huge youth populations but little green space. But why is UN Habitat letting the IOC off too easy?
Consider the run up to last year’s summer games, when 60,000 homes in the Beijing slums were destroyed each year to make way for Olympic development. And then there was the Chinese government’s violent quashing of the tenants’ rights movement that inevitably sprang up, all while the IOC yawned on the sidelines. For all this, the IOC recently won a “Housing Rights Violater Award” from the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), shared by only two other “winners.” The statement issued by COHRE director Salih Booker puts it succinctly:
“The IOC, though not a government, nevertheless has responsibilities to respect and protect human rights, and has signally failed to live up to those obligations to date. This year’s Beijing Olympics resulted in the forced eviction of some 1.5 million people. In its role selecting Olympic host cities, the IOC has a unique opportunity to ensure that in future cities bidding to host the games do not engage in housing rights violations, both during the bidding process and—for the successful bidding cities—during preparations for staging the games. Sadly the IOC has failed to take the concrete steps within its power to make this happen.”
And it’s not as if last year’s games were the first time this has happened on the IOC’s watch. Beijing was only a larger-scale repeat of the shameful displacements that occurred before the ’88 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Keep an eye on Vancouver and London—respective sites of the next winter and summer games—for any Olympics-related housing chicanery. Because we know the IOC won’t.