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Group: Olympics Force Mass Evictions

The Olympic Games have displaced more than 2 million people in the last 20 years, mostly minorities such as the homeless and poor, a rights group said Tuesday.

Some 1.5 million people will have been displaced by the Beijing Games alone, according to a report by the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions.

"Our research shows that little has changed since 1988 when 720,000 people were forcibly displaced in Seoul, South Korea, in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games," said Jean du Plessis, COHRE's executive director. "It is shocking and entirely unacceptable that 1.25 million people have already been displaced in Beijing, in preparation for the 2008 Games, in flagrant violation of their right to adequate housing."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the figures as "groundless."

Some 6,037 households have been demolished since 2002 to make way for nine venues in the process of preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games, spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

"Those citizens have received cash compensation and been properly resettled. Not one single household has been forced to move out of Beijing," Jiang said.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies told The Associated Press that the study "touches upon a very important subject," and that the IOC planned to attend a COHRE workshop addressing the issue June 14-15.

"We want to dialogue fully with them and the U.N. to understand the figures more fully," Davies said. "We'd like to get a better understanding of the issues and see what international norms and U.N. standards exist that could serve as guidelines for governments in the future."

The three-year study covered seven past and future Olympic host cities — Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.

The report, titled "Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights," also examines other major international events such as soccer's World Cup, World Expos, IMF/World Bank conferences and even beauty pageants such as the Miss World and Miss Universe contests.

The study says that large-scale events often lead to rising housing costs, resulting in forced evictions, displacement and criminalization of homelessness.

Five years ahead of the 2012 Olympics in London, more than 1,000 people face the threat of displacement from their homes, while housing prices are escalating, the study said.

The report said organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Games had vowed to respect housing rights, but preparations already have led to the loss of 700 low-income housing units and the conversion of inexpensive housing into tourist accommodations has displaced hundreds of poor and elderly.

Past games were often worse:

  • For the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, 720,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes and homeless people were rounded up and detained in facilities outside the city, the report said. Development and urbanization led to unaffordable housing.
  • Leading up to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, more than 400 families were displaced to make room for the Olympic Village, 20 families were evicted from the site of the Olympic stadium and 200 other families were displaced for the construction of ring roads. Housing prices and rents increased 139 and 149 percent respectively during the six-year period before the games and the lack of affordable housing forced low-income earners out of the city.
  • For the 1996 Atlanta Games, some 30,000 poor residents were displaced due to gentrification. About 2,000 public housing units were demolished. Legislation was introduced to criminalize homelessness, the report said.
  • Legislative measures also were introduced ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics to simplify the expropriation of private property. Hundreds of Roma were evicted from their settlements.
  • Because the main sporting complex for the 2000 Sydney Games was built on surplus government wasteland, no one was directly evicted or displaced for those games. But the city's gentrification led to house prices more than doubling between 1996 and 2003. Rents soared 40 percent, forcing many to move to the city's fringe.

    The study was undertaken in partnership with the Geneva International Academic Network, the U.N. Center for Human Settlements known as HABITAT, the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on Sport for Development and Peace, and the New York University Law School among others.

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