Addressing Internal Displacement from International Sporting Events

By Meredith Giel and Lauren Webber

The Issue

Promising emerging markets, desirable population demographics, and wealth in natural resources distinguish Brazil as an influential economy of the 21st century.(1) In recent years, Brazil has avidly sought out further opportunities for cooperation in foreign trade, investment and especially infrastructure development. This has led to Brazil playing host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.

Sports are an unusual topic in the narratives of global and regional scales of political geography. However, Brazil winning the bid for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics present themselves as the perfect opportunities to analyze the significance and impact which these mega-sporting events have on political, social, economic, and geographic situations. Accounts of Development-Induced Displacement and Resettlement (DIDR) and vast human rights violations performed in the name of ‘sports’ by the Brazilian government are a black eye on this emerging, prosperous economy.(2)

The Right to Property, also known as the right to protection of one’s property, is enshrined in Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite this, every year approximately 15 million people are displaced as a result of major development projects.(3) A large number are increasingly being displaced in preparation for the two sporting events coming to Rio in the next few years. The forced eviction of over a million families fosters further inequality and extreme poverty for a substantial portion of favela dwellers in Rio de Janeiro. Recent gentrification initiatives would affect over 260,000 households and relocate about 13,000 families in the upcoming year.(4)

Rapid urbanization is one of the main causes of forced resettlement, especially in a high population density country such as Brazil. In October 2009, Rio de Janeiro began preparations to host the 2016 Olympic Games. Many of the residents were euphoric.

They believed that the urban expansion projects and the transformation of the existing favelas to ‘safe and clean’ areas could make Rio a shining star on the international stage. However, not all residents share this sentiment. Many citizens living in the favelas openly oppose this as they do not believe that they are being treated fairly. Those being displaced lack effective and sufficient resettlement assistance when their neighbourhoods experience demolition.

A key social problem in Rio, associated with the importance of the favelas, is the lack of initiative or improvement in the distribution of income.(5) Over the last century of urbanization in Brazil, vast wealth disparities pushed thousands of migrants to the cities.(6) This led to the development of favelas and they continued to expand and mature into massive, makeshift, informal housing slums, side by side with some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world.(7)

A Proposed Strategy

To address the severe social problems being caused by the development projects associated with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, we propose the creation of a volunteer-based, non-profit, non-partisan, advocacy organization called Students Against Internal Displacement (SAID) International. SAID International would seek to empower students from all over the world and encourage them to publicly, peacefully, and democratically oppose the internal displacement which results in nations hosting international sporting events.

SAID International would embark on numerous campaigns targeting many different international sporting events. To start, SAID International would launch a campaign to address the recent internal displacement in Brazil.

As the International Olympic Committee’s Charter currently lacks any mention of internal displacement, SAID International would petition the IOC to make an amendment to the charter making it mandatory that host cities consider and address any potential displacement. The amendment should ensure that host cities both protect and promote the fundamental freedoms and rights of all citizens regardless of their status.

It is important for SAID International to foster connections, relationships, and partnerships with organizations such as local hometown associations, all levels of government in Brazil, Olympic sponsors who may not necessarily want their brand associated with displacement and organizations such as Rooting 4 the Home Team which are already taking action against this displacement.

In pursuit of this campaign, SAID International would use a variety of different project tools to foster dialogue:

  • social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter
  • a website
  • an online petition to send to the International Olympic Committee
  • a postcard campaign

This organization would be volunteer run and rely on the use of free social media platforms and the internet for distribution, so there would not be a need for high levels of funding. Also, as this organization would be largely student run, different chapters could obtain society/club funding from post-secondary Students Unions in order to cover the costs of things such as informational campaign nights, postcard printing and distribution.


Works Cited

  2. Ronquillo, Elissa Josefina, “The 2014 Brazilian World Cup: Consequences and Legacies” (2012). Scripps Senior     Theses.Paper 71. Pg 1.
  3. Terminski, Bogumil. “Development-Induced Displacement and Human Security: A Very Short Introduction.” Accessed April 10, 2013.
  4. Baena, Victoria. “Favelas in the Spotlight Transforming the Slums of Rio De Janeiro.” Harvard International Review (Spring 2011): Pg. 37.
  5. Cataldo, Fabian. “New Forms of Citizenship and Socio-Political Inclusion: Accessing Antiretroviral Therapy in a Rio de Janeiro Favela.” Sociology of Health & Illness 30, no. 6 (2008): 900-12.
  6. Ronquillo, Elissa Josefina, “The 2014 Brazilian World Cup: Consequences and Legacies” (2012). Scripps Senior Theses.Paper 71. Pg. 1.
  7. Cataldo, Fabian. “New Forms of Citizenship and Socio-Political Inclusion: Accessing Antiretroviral Therapy in a Rio de Janeiro Favela.” Sociology of Health & Illness 30, no. 6 (2008): Pg. 903.

Student Series No. 1

In the spring of 2013, a graduate class was tasked with creating projects that addressed an issue within the scope of the governance of migration. Although purely hypothetical, this exercise stimulated discussion about the practical challenges that come when studying migration. One group proposed a study that would use a survey to examine the relationship between climate change and migration, which follows below:


Changes in the climate have had increasingly severe impacts on local subsistence populations in Central American countries. Between 1992 and 2011, the countries in the region were among the most affected by climate change (Harmeling and Eckstein, 2012), and experienced large scale outmigration to other countries in the region such as Mexico and the U.S. (Rosenblum and Brick, 2011). International migration is often, and almost certainly correctly, partially attributed to changes in local climate variations. But identifying climate change as a cause of migration has not been met with the requisite empirical evidence typified by other flows of migration, bringing this attribution into question. Indeed, climate-related factors remain difficult to separate from existing economic, social, and political factors (Black et al., 2011). Yet the environment and climate have had significant effects on migrants’ lives in recent decades, and will continue to do so in the future with an increasingly unpredictable global climate. In response to appeals for more robust empirical research (Bilsborrow and Henry, 2012), this project will to undertake a quantitative and qualitative research study in the Western Guatemalan province of Huehuetenango to determine how local respondents weigh factors of a changing climate and variations in climatic events against decisions to migrate, a survey will be administered and results compiled.

Project framework

The project is intended to establish an empirical linkage between climate change and migration in a local context in order to develop lessons for broader contexts. The project will administer a short survey to respondents in the province of Huehuetenango. The survey consists of three sets of questions; the first set of questions are adaptable to a variety of contexts; the second set are locally-tailored, and related to perceptions of climate variation and land use in the area; and the third set relate to local populations’ experiences with migration. The survey will be used to gauge the relationship between climate change and migration in a finite space

We will travel to Huehuetenango and administer the survey in collaboration with local organizations interested in the project over the course of 1 or 2 months. After completing the surveys, we will return to Canada and analyze the data in order to create reports based on our findings. These reports will be distributed to the various international donors of the project. The Guatemalan government and local community groups within Huehuetenango will also receive reports aimed at establishing their potential role in facilitating migration in the event of slow and fast onset climate change and in fostering greater opportunities for local people to be more informed on these issues. Further, we will communicate with the local organizations to inform communities of the results of the project. Multiple media platforms would be used for different purposes depending on the audience and a regularly updated blog will narrate the projects operation.

Project importance

As discussed, the many difficulties of attributing migration patterns directly to climate change preclude effective policy decisions regarding the best ways to address climate-related movement. This project is intended to empirically test a program at a small scale that can be scaled out to other contexts, and up to a global context. It would provide geographically discrete empirical data that would illustrate one group’s experience within the larger discourse. Further, there is a great deal of disparity in a region’s resilience to climate change; vulnerable populations often lack the resources to migrate, and receive no government support to do so. They lack the knowledge of likely climatic changes in order to make a decision on whether or not to adapt to, or migrate from, an affected area. This project will help to reduce some of this asymmetry. International organizations could better target programs, governments would have information about their service effectiveness and coverage and local populations would have a greater sense of where they fit.

Impact on wider discourse

If successful, this pilot project in Huehuetenango Department could be adapted to other areas around the globe, simply by altering some of the questions in the survey. The desired outcome is that collected data and stories illustrate how climate change affects migration more clearly. In Huehuetenango, that would mean identifying -or not – climate change as a significant factor. It would also mean gauging resident’s perceptions of climate change. At a larger scale, we expect this project to empirically confirm the dominant arguments in the climate change-related migration discourse. The grandiose goal of this project, far beyond any expected operational outcomes, is that our project be only the first in what would become a replicated occurrence across the globe. We hope that donors, governments and scholars see the value in our work. Further, we expect this project to change, adapt, expand and be improved upon as these and other organizations and individual recognize the value in the work.


Works Cited

  1. Bilsborrow, Richard E. and Sabine J.F. Henry. (2012). “The use of survey daqta to study migration-environment relationships in  developing countries: alternative approaches to data collection.” Populations and Environment, Vol. 34: 113-141.
  2. Black, Richard, W. Neil Adger, Nigel W. Arnell, Stefan Dercon, Andrew Geddes, David S.G. Thomas. (2011). “The effect of environmental change on human migration.” Global Environmental Change, Vol. 21S: S3-S11.
  3. Harmeling, Sven and David Eckstein. (2012). Global Climate Risks 2013: Who suffers most from extreme weather events? Weather-related loss events in 2011 and 1992 – 2011. Bonn: Germanwatch.
  4. Rosenblum, Marc R. and Kate Brick. (2011). US Immigration Policy and Mexican/Central American Migration Flows: Then and Now. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.

* Written by Gabriel Williams & Will Grass, 2013


This blog is part of the Global Governance of International Migration (GGIM) project at the International Migration Research Centre (IMRC). Upcoming content will include:

1. A blog series for students participating in courses related to the governance of migration

2. Posts about various events surrounding GGIM related activities

…And much more as GGIM moves forward.

Stay tuned!