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Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

What is the future of Olympics compliance?

My previous post argued that megasports are beginning to leave legacies of improved anti-corruption and human rights standards. Wait, come again? How could that be?

Let’s take the timely example of the Olympics. After a brutally long series of host-country corruption and human rights scandals, the International Olympic Committee recognized change was imperative. It needed new policies mandating meaningful anti-corruption and human rights measures for the host countries.  

And so in 2017, the IOC amended its model host-city contract to include, for the first time in history, legally enforceable anti-corruption and human rights obligations. Because Beijing won the rights to host the present Olympics back in 2015, the new contractual provisions don’t apply; perhaps it shows. But they do apply to all future Olympics already awarded: the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics; the Milan/Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics; the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics; and the Brisbane 2032 Summer Olympics. (The 2030 Winter Olympics have not yet been awarded).

Juxtaposing these two new provisions, they teach us something important about the global compliance movement.

The human rights provision obligates the host to “protect and respect human rights . . . in a manner consistent with all internationally-recognized human rights standards . . . including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” 

The provision is helpful in its specificity. The clear standard is the UNGPs, and the hosts are legally bound to implement them. The organizing committee’s compliance officer will know just where to start.

Consider, by contrast, the anti-corruption clause. It similarly obligates the host to “refrain from any act involving fraud or corruption, in a manner consistent with . . . all internationally-recognized anti-corruption standards . . . including . . . compliance.”

The clause has a similar structure, and seems meant to do the same work. But does it? Can it?

Here’s the problem. In human rights due diligence, the phrase, “internationally-recognized standards” refers unambiguously to the UNGPs. There is but one standard, unquestionably. But the anti-corruption space is different. It is pluralistic. We have a plethora of standards: some from national enforcement agencies, others from private organizations, and a few from intergovernmental organizations. This is good, most of the time. Pluralism invites innovation.  

But none of these standards is internationally recognized. If you were the chief compliance officer of an Olympic host city’s organizing committee, charged with operationalizing this anti-corruption provision, what would you do? Where would you start? It’s really hard to know.

We said last post that megasports provide a window into global compliance. In the Olympic Games, we see the unrivaled salience and authority of the UNGPs in human rights due diligence. We also see the sometimes-perplexing pluralism of anti-corruption compliance standards.

Where to go from here? The Olympics Compliance Task Force, an international group of anti-corruption and human rights experts, has developed some ideas in this paper.  

But make no mistake: that we’re even having this discussion reflects the progress we’ve made in making anti-corruption compliance and human rights due diligence real, and impactful. As we’ve said, megasports are a window into our world.

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