Improving the Legacy of the Olympic Games

Betere mensenrechtennormen voor gastlanden Olympische

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to impose stronger human rights standards for hosts, and must also enforce the standards. They are now too vague to provide meaningful guidance. The IOC should also consider establishing some form of ‘review panel’ for those who are harmed by the Olympic Games. These are findings of law expert Ryan Gauthier in his thesis Accountability for Harmful Olympic Games’ Outcomes and the International Olympic Committee: A Multi-Method International Legal Analysis. He defends his thesis on 11 December 2015 at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.   ​

The preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics saw allegations of human rights violations. News reports were filled with descriptions of forced labour, the displacement of families, and environmental damage caused by the construction of Olympic infrastructure. Similar reports have come out of Brazil (Olympics 2016), China (Olympics 2008), Qatar (World Cup 2022), and other countries hosting major sporting events. Although the state is supposed to prevent and stop these problems, it may be unwilling to do so.

International sporting bodies prose a particularly tricky problem for international lawyers. They exercise a large amount of power over states, particularly in those that host international sporting events. However, they are private organisations, based in Switzerland, practically immune from the courts. As such, they are said to lack accountability.

Looking to Administrative Law
In considering the accountability of the IOC, Ryan’s research examines its structures and procedures. His research finds that the human rights standards the IOC applies to hosts are too vague to provide meaningful guidance, and are unlikely to be enforced by the Committee. Although the IOC has made improvements as part of the reforms it made in 2014, they may not be enough. Therefore, it needs to impose stronger human rights standards for hosts, and must also enforce the standards.

Gauthier’s research suggests that the IOC should adopt procedures similar to those used by domestic administrative bodies to encourage the transparency of, public participation in, and review of decisions made in regards to the Olympic Games.

Looking to the World Bank
The thesis compares the International Olympic Committee and the World Bank. World Bank projects have faced similar concerns to those faced by the Olympic Games. The World Bank responded by establishing a complaints mechanism, the World Bank Inspection Panel, where those harmed by the World Bank could request an investigation. 
Although the Panel has many imperfections, the research shows that it provides a potential model for improving the accountability of the IOC for the Olympic Games. The IOC should consider establishing some form of ‘review panel’ for those who are harmed by the Olympic Games.


About Ryan Gauthier
Ryan Gauthier (Pembroke, 1983) studied political science at Carleton University and law at Harvard Law School. He is called as an attorney in the state of New York. Over the past four years, he has researched the governance of sports organisations at the Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is currently a consultant in Vancouver, Canada.

More information

Press Office Erasmus University Rotterdam, + 31 10 408 1216 or press@eur.nl