#IndexDrawTheLine: Engage free speech laggards

As cheers from the World Cup rumbled in the background, Index set up an online platform to debate the tussle between sport and freedom of speech. As part of the Draw the Line series of discussions, last month’s question was: Should repressive regimes be banned from sport? If countries have poor human rights record, do they deserve to participate?

Twitter erupted with opinions. Immediately the question of defining a repressive regime was raised – whose duty would it be to decide? Although many might agree that Iran’s government-controlled press was anti-free speech, would the US’s treatment of whistleblower Edward Snowden fall into the same category?

Others argued that banning offending countries would leave their crimes in the shadows. Instead they believed oppressive regimes should suffer the spotlight of global media – hoping that the publicity would encourage conversation and spark change.

Opinions seemed split at the first Draw the Line event, where ten young human rights activists gathered to discuss the same issue. Although some declared passionately that repressive regimes must be punished, there were fears that a ban would misdirect that punishment – affecting a country’s people rather than its leaders.

Defining the World Cup’s worst countries for free speech – or the “group of death” – seemed to make a much easier task for the young activists. Examining democracy, civil liberties, press regulations, internet freedom and corruption, participants unanimously decided that Cameroon, Iran, Nigeria and Russia qualified as the countries that held freedom of speech in the lowest regard.

As the debate evolved, a common consensus emerged: A campaign should be set up to stop countries that stifle free speech from hosting high profile sports events, like the world cup. With host countries benefiting from huge boosts to the economy, infrastructure and community spirit, this should be incentive enough to halt human rights abuses without punishing innocent citizens by banning countries completely.

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