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Chargé d’Affaires Theodore Allegra’s Welcome Remarks at Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights
December 1, 2017

Welcome Remarks by Theodore Allegra
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim
U.S. Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations

Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights
30 November 2017

– As Delivered –

President Mary Robinson and other distinguished guests: welcome, and thank you for joining us tonight.   It is an honor for us to host so many luminaries from the fields of diplomacy, human rights, sports, business, labor, and the media.

The complexity of sport today is extraordinary. If you go back to 1896, when the founder of the IOC, Pierre de Coubertin, staged the first modern Olympics, there were 241 athletes taking part in 43 events. Athens had only been chosen two years beforehand. Fourteen nations participated. For some of the events at the Olympic Stadium, which seated 80,000, there was an overflow crowd, which observers called the biggest audience for a sports event since antiquity.

There was no radio, no TV, no Facebook and no Twitter, and no live shots with the athletes; just some photographers taking shaky pictures and a few reporters cabling back the results via telegraph.

At Rio in 2016, there were more than 11,000 athletes taking part in 306 events. Two hundred and seven nations sent athletes. The Games are estimated to have cost $11 billion, and there were 40,000 hours of TV footage and 60,000 hours of digital footage. There were even 85 hours of footage shot in 360-degree virtual reality format. Rio had launched its bid nine years before the Games took place. The IOC estimated a global audience of around 3.5 billion people.

Today’s mega sporting events require extensive planning and sophisticated logistics; they are huge construction projects which pose daunting financial and transportation challenges.  They require an international work force ranging from renowned architects and visionary urban planners to day laborers assembling bleacher seats.

And because mega sporting events bring short-term inconveniences to the residents of the city and country in which they take place — as well as long term changes – those residents inevitably seek a voice in the execution of this effort.  Meanwhile, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of a hard deadline. Sothere are many opportunities for conflict long before the event even begins.

That’s why the Sporting Chance Forum on Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights is so important. It is an opportunity to share what we’ve learned about making the planning and the process better to ensure that human rights — especially workers’ rights — are respected in the lead-up to the events, and during the events themselves.

And the Forum invites us to reflect in practical terms on how we can take a rights-based approach and apply it to the world’s largest athletic events? What works, and what doesn’t?

Hosting mega-sporting events like the World Cup, the Olympics, and, if I may, the Super Bowl, are expensive undertakings.  They are also what diplomats call “action forcing events.” The fact that the spotlight is going to be shining brightly on your city and your country pushes the host to get that airport built, improve the highway system, and make sure the signage makes sense.

In fact, it was rumored that one reason former New York City mayor Bloomberg wanted the Olympics so badly in New York is that it might, at last, have resulted in LaGuardia airport getting a badly needed upgrade. Alas, that’s going to have to wait.

So there is a lot to discuss, and the focus on mega-sporting events and human rights could not have come at a more relevant time and in a more relevant place than international Geneva.  As we diplomats here are deeply engaged in labor rights, women’s rights, and human rights every day, it is the people in this room tonight that push us all in the right direction to expand our work in important new directions.

With that, let me thank you all again for coming.  I’d like to give the floor now to Scott Busby, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  Scott is a frequent visitor to Geneva, and an important voice on this issue.  He is also a good friend and colleague, so Scott let me say “welcome back” and invite you to share a few thoughts.