About Us

At the turn of the last century, the modern Olympic and FIFA movements were launched in the context of declining empires, global economic crises, and ceaseless wars. Their explicit aim was to produce a new kind of peaceful world order.  These movements were founded on the theory that by providing healthful, demilitarized spaces where the youth of the world could realize their potential, they would come to embody a new kind of non-nationalistic, peaceful breed of humanity.

Yet the fact we have seen in changes recent decades to the treatment of young people in public spaces, particularly around such international sporting events, raises questions about the implementation of this humanitarian vision. In western democracies young people from certain social, economic and ethnic backgrounds have been widely criminalized and deemed undesirable. Recent sports mega events around the world have used repressive and militarized policing to exclude local young people and present the world’s tourists and media with a rose-tinted view of the host communities – snubbing those who should stand to benefit most from such an event in their city.  

How can public policy makers, youth organizations and event organizers ensure that the arrival of these sports mega-events, which are almost universally heralded as economic and social opportunities for their host communities, do not isolate, exclude and target local underprivileged youth. Issues around how young people use public space and the provisions that governments, police and communities make for them to do so are longstanding and important questions which become even more crucial when the World Cup or Olympics comes to town.

This conference, hosted by Goldsmiths University and the Open Society Foundations, will bring together youth activists, policy innovators and academic specialists to explore these issues. By looking back to the recent experiences of World Cup and Olympic hosts South Africa, Germany and Beijing, and looking forward to upcoming sports mega-events in London and Rio de Janeiro, we hope to generate new proposals for the promotion of young people’s interests in these giant international spectacles.

Context and Vision:

The modern Olympic Movement was founded, in 1894, explicitly in the image of other world humanitarian movements of its day – the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Peace Movement.  The Olympic Games aimed to demonstrate to the world that by bringing together youth from all nations, in a demilitarized space of equality for all, the future could be oriented away from war and toward health, away from fratricidal nationalisms and toward a triumphant humanism.   The founding principles of the Olympic Charter remain the same now as they were in 1894: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity… The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”   Similarly, the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) was founded in 1904 in accordance with similar principles that live on today. These principles were rearticulated in October 2011 by current FIFA president Joseph Blatter: “FIFA’s impact goes beyond the sportive to reach the financial, socio-cultural and political spheres. Of course, with this great success comes great responsibility. FIFA has a responsibility to act according to the good governance principles of transparency and zero tolerance towards any wrongdoings… because we are working for the youth of the world.”

But are the youth of the world -- and particularly youth in those societies hosting the sports mega-events themselves -- benefiting from application of these noble principles, today?   As sports mega-events are becoming increasingly policed, commercialized, militarized, and staged for the media, have their primary beneficiaries – youth -- been excluded? Or worse, have youth become perceived more as a threat, risk or target of games organizers rather than as the events’ primary beneficiaries? 

The news from recent mega-events underlines the urgency of these questions:  Hundreds of thousands of urban residents, most of them under the age of 25, lost their homes during preparations for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008; and thousands of youth were labeled delinquents and arrested.  Youth who did participate in the Beijing games were reduced to acting as pawns in spectacles of mass coordination -- as security workers or ceremonial performers.  In South Africa, deployment of a massive police presence kept most youth miles away from World Cup football matches in 2010, and justified the roundup and permanent eviction of youth ‘squatters’ or NGOs from the regions around the FIFA events.  Moreover, these eviction practices and exclusionary security regimes have been maintained more than a year after the events, and seem to have hardened into permanent mechanisms of youth exclusion.  As London prepares for the 2012 Olympics, particularly in the wake of the youth uprisings in the summer of 2011, the security regime and economic barriers to youth participation in the games may be higher than ever.