Time after time, you’ve heard me bang on about the power of sport, so I’m delighted to reflect some positive news that has the IOC seemingly at its core.
Last week China promised to lift its outright ban on Facebook and Twitter if it wins the right to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics. A simple, social premise perhaps, but for me this was an example of pro-active negotiation that’s so often been missing from bidding processes when there are far more damaging consequences at stake.
In the past too many events and tournaments have been granted to a country and the questions asked later. In this case the IOC has engaged with a bidding nation to clarify a specific social convention BEFORE the vote to select a host. Wow, heady stuff.
Compare that approach with FIFA when they granted Qatar the 2022 Football World Cup.
Qatar has an archaic labour system known as ‘Kafala’ that has led to widespread workforce exploitation. Long after Qatar was awarded the tournament, the plight of World Cup slaves (and yes, it is slavery) working on the infrastructure was brought into focus. In general, I have no problem with FIFA’s determination to take the tournament to the Middle East for the first time, but surely the organisation should’ve done their homework and ensured basic human rights would be satisfied?
In 2010, when the vote was taken, FIFA had a chance to enforce such a move before they committed to confirming Qatar’s selection. Instead, in 2014 it was reported that Nepalese migrants working on World Cup projects had died at the rate of one every two days and its been the weight of pressure from elsewhere which has forced Qatar to make a belated promise that laws will be changed. So far, these assurances are just window dressing and real kafala reform is still waiting.
As for the IOC, their position with China is in stark contrast to their previous approach when awarding the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi. On that occasion they failed to insist that outlawing human rights abuses and prejudices relating to the gay and lesbian community would be a condition of staging the Games in the first place. With Sochi, the IOC definitely got it wrong but perhaps the Chinese undertaking for 2022 reflects a commendable change in stance. It’s good to note that since the Sochi debacle the IOC have implemented a human rights clause into their bidding guidelines that aims to prevent this from happening again. Late to the party but at least they’re there.
If the IOC has implemented this change then great, because when it comes to making mistakes and learning from them we’ve all been there. Around 10 years ago, we made a mistake at SKINS that cost us a hefty penalty from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. If you’re Australian you may remember it, because it was openly reported at the time.
In short, we unintentionally committed an error of judgment and we were punished for it. As part of the judgment, we gave a legal undertaking to implement a trade practices compliance programme and deliver comprehensive compliance training. To this day, we retain those disciplines and also a specific code of commercial conduct and in hindsight, our unintentional misdemeanour made us more commercially and socially aware than perhaps we were previously.
So that experience makes me more sensitive to such issues and it’s probably why I’m delighted with the pro-active promise discussed by the IOC and made by China to embrace a global convention. Firstly, it reflects a level of dialogue seemingly absent from previous bidding processes and secondly, perhaps it illustrates a lesson learned that can be heeded by other organisations who have the Power of Sport at their fingertips too?