The Ideals of Global Sport: From Peace to Human Rights
This volume is based on the premise that moral claims made about sports mega-events
constitute one of the most visible and significant sources of normative expectations about
international affairs. Thanks to sport’s extraordinary popularity, what we expect of international
sport helps shape what we expect of the international order. Few events, if any, draw the level of
global attention that the Olympic Games and the men's soccer World Cup excite. In 2012, an
estimated 70% of the world’s population participated in some way in the Olympic Games;
figures for the 2010 men’s soccer World Cup show close to half the world’s population watching
at least some of the coverage.1 These events do not simply offer a representation of a global
order; they create, reinforce, and propagate normative views about that global order, helping to
constitute the moral rules and expectations that guide and inspire it.
The volume traces the origins and development of international sport’s major idealistic
claims and examines how they have operated in particular contexts. Chapters investigate the
functions idealistic claims have served, what kind of politics they have abetted, and why they
have been believable, when, and to whom. It aims to understand how different ideals have
worked sometimes in tension and sometimes in harmony and how the relative power of each
ideal has waxed and waned as a result of changes in international politics. The contributions
probe contestation over ideals by organizers, proponents, and critics; the legitimizing strategies
that have underpinned those claims; the relationship of these claims to broader currents of
international idealism; and how these claims have influenced conceptions of world order.
The Olympic Games of 1980 and 2014 present a case study in the hosting of sport mega-events by repressive regimes. In both cases, the authoritarian government sought hosting rights in order to enhance their own legitimacy, an aim that was largely met at home but at the cost of incurring damaging criticism abroad about human rights violations. In both cases, the Games sparked debates about how sporting events could be most effectively used to improve human rights overall. These debates revolved around familiar poles: on the one hand, claims that the events could help spur reform, and on the other hand, the argument that hosting would lead to heightened abuses. In 1980 even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan triggered a large- scale boycott, some voices in Western Europe and the United States were arguing that Moscow should be spurned because of the Soviet Union’s record of repression. In 2014 though some boycott calls were made, boycotting seemed a less compelling tactic. Instead, reformers hoped to achieve results through public pressure. In the final tally, the results of both Games suggest that sports mega-events in repressive regimes are likely to lead to more repression.