This sporting life: forced evictions, modern slavery

For weeks there have been stories of hundreds of thousands of poor people being forcibly evicted to make way for the Commonwealth Games in India, and now comes a report that thousands of poor women and girls in India are being enticed into Delhi to work as “escorts”.

The fear being voiced by the Indian organisation Impulse NGO Network is that many of these will be forced to work as prostitutes – a familiar story of “well-paid” jobs offered by agents which actually turn out to be excruciating ordeals consisting of deception, threats, beatings and slave-like working conditions in the sex industry.

So, one set of poor people out, another set in.  No major sporting event now seems complete without these harrowing accounts of marginal people being “cleared“ from tournament sites (there are even claims from a Glasgow resident that Glasgow City Council has tried to force her out of her home ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland). Exactly the same happened with the Beijing Olympics and the South African World Cup. Don’t get in the way of Big Sport, seems to be the message.

The old cliché is that sport is a metaphor for life and in way the hyper-commercialisation and politicisation of big sporting events seems to be throwing into relief some of the world’s uglier truths.

One truth is that trafficking and forced labour in slave-like conditions are a truly huge global problem. Specialist organisations think that in excess of 12 million people are forced to work as modern slaves (ie where coercion is added to poor working conditions). Just today there are disturbing media reports of Nigerian sex slaves being held in camps in Mali, and of West African workers held as virtual slaves on board fishing trawlers operating in the Atlantic. 

The other unpleasant truth is that the forcible eviction of poor, largely powerless people from their homes is occurring all around the world, sporting event or no sporting event. Please take action to prevent the forced evictions of Nairobi residents and market traders in Kenya and of Romani families near Belgrade, Serbia.

So, I wish all the athletes at the Delhi games well. As the great indie band Ballboy once sang, the surge for the finishing line (“the rain-soaked sprint for gold”) is a classic moment in any athletics tournament.

Long may we continue to stage great sporting spectacles. But let’s not lose sight of the poor people who sometimes pay the cost of staging them.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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