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Can the Olympics leave an anti-corruption legacy?

An Olympic host city’s anti-corruption and human rights measures should obviously reduce risk. But can they do more? Can they leave a legacy of new norms, or policies, or even laws in the host country?

For about thirty years, megasport stakeholders have paid much attention to the legacies these events have left, and should leave. Obvious examples are infrastructure or long-term economic impacts. Both can be positive or negative. But legacies can take a variety of forms: economic, social, cultural, environmental.

Recent megasporting events have raised a new possibility: a human rights and anti-corruption legacy. More simply, we may one day be able to say that a country is better governed in relation to human rights and anti-corruption because it hosted the Olympics or FIFA World Cup.

Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

Let’s think of a few simple examples. An organizing committee (the local host-city/country entity that oversees preparations) requires all third parties to adopt anti-corruption compliance and human rights due diligence, even if local law does not so require. Those companies are now exposed to best practices, and may in some cases continue those practices after the Games.

Or that same organizing committee commits to providing effective human rights and anti-corruption training to all employees and volunteers. Now you have tens of thousands of individuals newly acquainted with the norms, laws, and best practices in anti-corruption and human rights.

Or a city government decides to clean up its anti-corruption and human rights policies as it prepares to host the event, in the hopes the city may shine more brightly under the anticipated megasport spotlight. Imagine the city does not unwind those policies immediately following the event.

Legacies can have many facets: norms, skills, knowledge, practices, policies, or even laws. The megasporting event need not be the sole or even primary cause of these developments; where the event accelerates their implementation, it still constitutes a legacy.

So I propose we define this new kind of legacy this way: anti-corruption and/or human rights norms, practices, policies, or laws that apply beyond the megasporting event, that remain in place after the event is over, and the implementation of which is accelerated by hosting a megasporting event.

In a book forthcoming with Oxford University Press, I argue that we are witnessing a steady progression toward legacies that are pro-active rather than reactive, intentional rather than accidental, and include both anti-corruption and human rights dimensions.

We can trace their development through successive megasporting events: starting with Brazil (the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup and 2016 Rio Summer Olympics), through South Korea (2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics) and now looking forward to the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, the 2026 Milan Cortina Winter Olympics, and the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup co-hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Twenty years ago, the notion that a country bidding to host an event should include an environmental legacy proposal was thought outlandish. Today, an environmental legacy is a standard part of a megasport bid. Could the same occur with anti-corruption and human rights?

Let’s see.

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