Good sports: Which free-speech offending countries should we blow the whistle on?

Against the backdrop of the World Cup in Brazil, we ask how, during global sporting events, should we respond to countries that repress their citizen's free expression? Should we engage or ignore?

12 Jun 2014
Protests against increase in public transportation costs in Rio de Janeiro on 13 February (Image: Mauricio Fidalgo/Demotix)

Protests against increase in public transportation costs in Rio de Janeiro on 13 February (Image: Mauricio Fidalgo/Demotix)

The World Cup — arguably the biggest international event on the planet — is upon us once more. But in the past year, Brazilians have been using their rights to free expression to organise large-scale protests to show their dissatisfaction with hosting the tournament. Meanwhile, revelations of serious human rights violations and corruption related to 2022 host Qatar have emerged. This year, human rights are sharing the spotlight with the beautiful game and its stars.

This isn’t the first time politics and sports have mixed. Just think of the Formula 1 Grand Prix races hosted in Gulf kingdom Bahrain, where authorities have cracked down on pro-democracy protesters; or the 2008 Olympics organised by the Chinese communist regime, which employs two million people to help monitor web activity; or the 1978 World Cup held in then-military dictatorship Argentina. More recently, Vladimir Putin’s Russia hosted the Winter Olympics (and will host the 2018 World Cup) not long after implementing homophobic legislation targeting so-called “gay propaganda”, while Belarus, which has been ruled by dictator Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, organised the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship. Azerbaijan, with its, according to the latest figures, 142 political prisoners, is playing host to the inaugural European Games in 2015.

That’s without even considering the many human rights abuses perpetrated by authorities in participating countries.

The question that often comes up when these huge, prestigious events roll around, is how do we respond to the countries that repress their citizen’s free expression? Should we boycott? Should we use the attention to raise our voice on human rights abuses? Should we engage or ignore? Get involved the discussion using the hashtag #IndexDrawtheLine and tell us — where do you draw the line?

This article was published on June 12, 2014 at

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