The City of Calgary voted resoundingly in Tuesday’s plebiscite to withdraw its bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. While Olympic corruption did not quite deal the bid’s death blow, it was certainly a co-conspirator.
Calgary may have been poised to deliver among the most socially responsible Olympics in recent history. But its citizens would have nothing of it, voting the prospect down by a veritable landslide, 57 percent to 43 percent. Calgary thus joins an alarmingly long list of cities that, through democratic means, have rejected the Games.
Why have the Olympics become so unattractive? Many reasons, but probably the three most salient are: 1) cost overruns; 2) dubious returns on public investment; and 3) corruption and human rights scandals.
Fortunately, the International Olympic Committee is by no means deaf to these protests. Expect to see a fair amount of innovation in the coming years to reduce host-city costs. For example, Stockholm — one of two remaining candidates for the 2026 Games, along with Milan — is exploring hosting the bobsleigh, luge, and sleketon events in nearby Latvia, where quality facilities are already in place.
But the new anti-corruption and human rights measures are even more interesting and at least as beneficial. Beginning with Paris, host of the 2024 Summer Games, the IOC is requiring host cities to adopt anti-corruption compliance and human rights monitoring measures. This has never been done before. To wit, the host city, the Organizing Committee, and the National Olympic Committee must heretofore
refrain from any act involving fraud or corruption, in a manner consistent with any international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and all internationally-recognized anti-corruption standards applicable in the Host Country, including by establishing and maintaining effective reporting and compliance.
On the human rights side, these same entities must now
protect and respect human rights and ensure any violation of human rights is remedied in a manner consistent with international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and in a manner consistent with all internationally-recognized human rights standards and principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, applicable in the Host Country
The impact of these new provisions in France is already apparent, as the country implements its new anti-corruption compliance law, Sapin II, and its corporate human rights statute, the Duty of Vigilance Law.
We anticipate the Olympic Games becoming less corrupt, more respectful of human rights . . . and ultimately more attractive to prospective host cities.
Andy Spalding, pictured above, chairs the Olympic Compliance Task Force. He is Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law (Virginia, USA), a Frequent Visiting Instructor at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Austria, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.