Sports events in today's neoliberal globalization have embodied the full aspects of a commercialized sports spectacle. Beyond the lavish preparations, expensive pageantry and billion-dollar profits, the glitzy world of global sports events overshadowed the cultural heart of sports: the collective spirit of teams, fair play and friendly competition from different nations.
Zirin (2014) in his book “Brazil's Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy”, likened mega-sports events as “Trojan horses” due to the capitalist assaults on the people when a country hosts a global sports event. These are common across the host countries: massive demolitions, gentrification, poor urban cleansing, and even changing criminal laws to suit the demands of mega-sports regulatory bodies.
Many have written about the social costs of spectacular sports events but few have highlighted the human and labour costs in preparation for these events. A decade passed when international trade unions and a few global civil society groups launched the “Play Fair” campaign at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The major objective of this coalition campaign is to unmask the dark side of global sports events where sportswear workers in developing countries work in low wages, sweatshop conditions, and are denied labour rights. From this on forward, the trade union and civil society campaign coalition on mega‐sports events have continued onto the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Olympics winning some promises from famous sportswear brand names to agree on corporate social responsibility.
The framing of the sports event campaigns broadened to highlight for example the unsafe working conditions and low wages of construction workers while building massive structures for the 2010 South Africa World Cup. The campaign on workers’ rights for garment workers for sportswear in developing countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines came into full force during the 2012 London Olympics. The campaign was the outcome of a research report by the Playfair alliance for the Playfair 2012 Olympics campaign entitled “Fair Games? Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories” (see Playfair website). The campaign on workers’ rights for garment workers for sportswear in developing countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines came into full force during the 2012 London Olympics.
The campaign was the outcome of a research report by the Playfair alliance for the Playfair 2012 Olympics campaign entitled “Fair Games? Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories” (see Playfair website). The campaign on workers’ rights for garment workers for sportswear in developing countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines came into full force during the 2012 London Olympics. The campaign was the outcome of a research report by the Playfair alliance for the Playfair 2012 Olympics campaign entitled “Fair Games? Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories” (see Playfair website).
A decade hence, trade union and civil society campaigns for social and labour rights come into a full circle in the eruption of social protests leading up to the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Now more than ever, there is an urgent need for social movements to critically engage the key players in mega‐sports events such as the regulatory bodies (ie FIFA, IOC), governments of host countries/cities, media and corporations who benefit from the expense of workers’ rights. After labour exploitation scandals were exposed in the construction industry in Qatar and garment sportswear factories in Indonesia, Bangladesh, etc., there is a growing interest to examine the past and current labour campaigns on sports events, gather lessons from campaign experiences and propose avenues on how these can be strengthened for future campaigns.
Examine past and present labour campaign strategies in the construction and textile/garment industries around the major sports events; Produce a manual that draws lessons from past campaigns and provides alternative analyzes and strategies to strengthen future labour campaigns around mega-sports events; and disseminate the manual/toolkit in cooperation with global and local trade union movements.
Much of the media critique on global sports events has focused on the lavish lifestyles and bribery scandals of sports executives in international sports governing bodies. Studies on the social costs of hosting global sports events are fortunately being undertaken (see Cottle, 2011, “A legacy for Whom?). Most often than not, critiquing sports events can be alienating if not risky to go against society’s sports pride. At the risk of being branded as ‘killjoys’ and ‘naysayers’, engaging critically the mega‐sports events involve appreciating the importance of global sports and critiquing the context around these events.
The combined initiatives of international trade unions and international civil society groups under the Play Fair campaign produced quality reports namely: “Clearing the Hurdles: Steps in Improving Wages and Working Conditions in Global Sportswear Industry”; “Toying with Workers’ Rights: A Report on Producing Merchandise for the London 2012 Olympic Games”; and “Fair Games?: Human Rights of Workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories”. Studies on South Africa, Brazil, Germany and the UK examined the stakeholders in global sports events such as FIFA/IOC and its corporate partners; the host nations, and the role of trade unions in ensuring workers’ rights in industries affected during these events.
Examining the campaign strategies of labour campaigns in the last ten years on a comprehensive level have not been undertaken despite the existence of in-depth analyzes and research on strengthening labour campaigns around global sports events (see McGuire and Schwetz 2008, Cottle 2011, Sauviat, et al 2011). Among the reflections that initially emerged from the experience of global trade unions involved in the campaign has been the need for a coordinated campaign strategy at the national/local level trade unions around mega-sports events. This research project intends to assemble the separate experiences and evaluations of labour’s strategies for campaigns and mobilizations at different stages of their involvement in mega sports events.
This research aims to examine the experiences of labour campaigns on sports events in two industries namely textile/garments and construction. In both industries, organized labour has launched sports events campaigns since 2004 under the global campaign coalition of “Playfair”. Through the years, the campaigns on the two industries have taken on a life of their own based on the different contexts in which the industries were situated and the different issues the workers in both industries have to confront. Based on the impact studies commissioned by the TUC (UK) and BWI (Geneva), different issues, lessons and campaign strategies were shaped and experienced in the last 10 years. The trade unions from the two industries organized campaigns for two different sports events namely the Olympics and the World Cup.
The labour campaign for workers in the textile/garment industries producing sportswear raised issues on wages and workers’ rights along the industry supply chains. In the construction industry, the labour campaign raised decent work conditions and workers’ rights of local and migrant construction workers building the mega-complexes undertaken by host governments to comply with the strict requirements of FIFA. These connected but disparate labour campaigns on sports events produced innovative campaign strategies on different dimensions and levels: public awareness campaigns, negotiations for global framework agreements on decent work along the supply chains, organizing migrant workers, negotiations with host governments, public exposure of workers’ rights violations, and many more. But a constant aspect of the labour campaigns was the importance of research that was conducted before and after the labour campaigns. This is the space and context upon which this research may find its relevance in examining the outcomes, lessons and dynamics of the experiences and strategies of sports events labour campaigns.
Among the findings of the impact studies on the campaigns from the two industries, one significant recommendation has surfaced. It was recommended that joint specialized researches need to be encouraged and to develop country‐based projects tackling freedom of association and living wage issues. In analyzing the different experiences, lessons learned, and strategies from the past labour campaigns around mega‐sports events, what are the areas of convergence between the differing campaign strategies from the two industries? How can a comprehensive campaign strategy around mega sports events be developed? From the differing experiences and strategies in the two industries, how can we draw global and local campaign strategies that can encompass the issues, dimensions and contexts of both industries?
Around the specific labour campaigns in the two industries, particular research questions may be developed. For the textile industry, how can brand-based union network be enhanced and strengthened to secure workers’ rights? How can a local or country ‐ based campaign strategy ensure trade union engagement on different phases of the sports events? For the construction industry, how can the campaign ‐ model that includes organizing and mobilization be replicated at the global level and from other industries?