On 29th August, Writers at Risk Committee Co-Chair Salil Tripathi attended the signing of an Olympic Communique, pledging to promote human rights in the four countries hosting the next Olympics and Winter Olympic Games.
For anyone who has visited the wonderful exhibition at the Free Word Centre over the past couple of months which shows the relationship of sports and politics, the event at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Aug 29 was remarkable. Four cities hosting Olympics – London 2012, Sochi 2014, Rio de Janeiro 2016, and Pyongcheang 2018 – came together in London hours before the Paralympics began, and signed a communique to ensure that the Olympiad would be inclusive and non-discriminatory, and respect human rights. As diplomats and politicians spoke, the real star was Tara Wood, gold medallist at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992, who reminded the group of human rights activists, diplomats, and other stakeholders present, how hard each athlete strives to succeed.
The message, that the Games should be inclusive, might seem self-evident, but for the modern Olympic movement has a peculiar past, and it is an important commitment. At the exhibition at the Free Word Centre, you can see how long the journey has been for the Olympic movement to become more inclusive. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Movement thought the role of women at the Olympics should have been restricted to applauding male athletes. From that sentiment, the Games have come a long way: the 2012 Olympic Games were the most inclusive – every participating state was represented by men and women. Racial barriers and myths were shattered when Jesse Owens swept medals at Berlin in 1936, and later, when black American athletes raised their fists at the medal stand in Mexico in 1968.
The last Olympic Games in London took place in 1948. It was the year the international community adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In London in 2012, the two ideals – sports and human rights – came closer. It isn’t going to be easy: human rights concerns related to the Games remain: who gets to sponsor the Games? How are the goods used for the Games made? How do stadia get built? Do people get evicted? Are the cities hosting the Games tolerant of free speech? Those questions will remain; that’s one marathon race still being run. But the commitment by the four cities is a step in the right direction. Once the race begins, there’s no turning back.