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Tokyo 2020 marked with exploration into labour abuse in mega-sports event delivery

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Tokyo 2020 marked with exploration into labour abuse in mega-sports event delivery

The article marks the launch of a new series by Engineers Against Poverty (EAP), beginning by examining Mega Sports Events (MSEs) and the labour force involved in making the infrastructure.

Today, as the world would have been sitting down to watch the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) launches a new research series on mega-sport events with Changing the Game: A critical analysis of labour exploitation in Mega Sport Event infrastructure projects. Like many other sectors, the world of sport is facing mounting pressure to return to ‘normality’ after drastically reducing activities due to COVID-19. But under pressure to claw back financial loss, there are concerns that quick decisions and a lack of scrutiny will exacerbate the sector’s poor track record in labour rights, corruption and public participation.

The research published today shines light on an issue in Mega Sports Events (MSEs) which appears time and time again: labour exploitation in the construction of sports event stadia. This aspect of MSE delivery is tarnished by grim statistics concerning how little and late workers are paid and the poor conditions they are subject to. For instance, those working on Qatar’s FIFA 2022 stadium have been reported to earn just US $ 1.50 an hour for 13-hour shifts, six days a week. Meanwhile, the majority of the 452,000 jobs created for the South Africa World Cup were informal and paid below minimum wage, leaving 110,000 construction workers unable to find work after the event. By addressing these issues, sports and construction industries could save, protect and improve countless lives.

The briefing outlines the current state of play for construction workers on MSE sites, going on to offer innovative recommendations to the tackle problems of unsustainable jobs, wage delay and critical health and safety concerns. Recommendations include:

  1. Promoting health and safety through a monitoring system of construction sites, involving bodies other than labour agencies (who usually bear sole responsibility for site inspections) to enhance scrutiny over the protection of workers. The London Olympics, which had such a system, did not record any fatalities unlike its predecessors and successors.
  2. Enhancing workers’ longer-term employment prospects by establishing a capacity building body to help build their soft and hard skill sets.  Incorporating the design of such a body into construction bids could ensure its enforcement.
  3. Creating a construction workers’ payment fund to mitigate late payment. This has been established in Qatar through its ‘Wage Protection System’ which releases payment to workers at the bottom of the construction supply chain after a late payment claim is filled by workers. This could also include an escrow system where payment is released to a personal account on an agreed date, thus ensuring payment is already in the bank and ready to be paid.

The time has come to put labour rights front and centre in the delivery of MSEs and ensure that abuse and violations are no longer their lasting legacy. Through the policy recommendations offered in this briefing, stakeholders can deliver long-lasting change and fulfil the goal of “advancing social development” so often propagated by MSE advocates.   

Read the opening remarks to EAP Insights’ Changing the Game series

Read the first paper Changing the Game: A critical analysis of labour exploitation in Mega Sport Event infrastructure projects


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Tippi Creed-Waring


Friday, July 24, 2020 - 12:16