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At the Olympics, it’s a high bar for host-city compliance officers

The Olympic Games are associated with chronic corruption and human rights problems, and not without reason. But what if the Games, at the same time, could leave an imprint in the host city and country of anti-corruption and human rights reforms?

Since the bribery scandal of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, we have seen a steadily rising flood of corruption and human rights criticism. The mid-2010s, with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, alongside the awarding of the 2022 Olympics to Beijing and the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup going to Qatar, were likely the high-water mark.

Then came what may prove to be a turning point. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee adopted a new policy designed to strengthen host-country compliance, reduce the incidence of scandal, and model better anti-corruption norms and practices.

By way of background, each time an Olympics Games are awarded to a host city, the IOC enters into a host city contract. Counterparties to the IOC are the host city, the host’s National Olympic Committee (NOC), and the host’s local entity set up to organize the event, called the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (OCOG). The contract template, called the model host city contract, is periodically revised and amended.

In 2017, the IOC amended the model host city contract to include an obligation that the OCOG, host city, and NOC adopt anti-corruption compliance and human rights due diligence for the first time in history. The anti-corruption provision requires these parties to

“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.”

The human rights provision requires those same parties to

“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 . . .”

Notice the clauses’ parallel structure. That actually turns out to pose some challenges. Still, these clauses could become a very big deal.

But any OCOG or host city compliance officer will ask: What does it mean? How do I operationalize these clauses? What am I supposed to actually do?

The Olympics Compliance Task Force has supplied an initial answer to that question. We are a group of anti-corruption and human rights academics and practitioners lending support to this nascent movement. Our white paper analyzes these clauses in detail, lending clarity where we can and flagging those clauses where we cannot.

During these Tokyo Olympics, we’ll spend a couple more posts talking about what these clauses are, and what they may become. Stay tuned.

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