Berlin Security Beat

Episode 13: “Sports and Autocrats”

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Dr. Christian Gläßel, postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for International Security at the Hertie School, and Dr. Adam Scharpf, incoming assistant professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, both experts on authoritarian regimes, join Dr. Katharina Emschermann, Deputy Director at the Centre, to talk about “sportswashing”, i.e. the instrumentalization of sports, in light of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. They discuss:

  • the scrutiny-publicity dilemma autocrats face when hosting international sports events,
  • how the Argentine military junta disappeared and killed opponents before the 1978 World Cup,
  • what the events of ‘78 tell us about today, and
  • the implications for politicians, functionaries and sponsors.


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Bowersox, Zack (2018): International Sporting Events and Human Rights: Does the Host Nation Play Fair? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books,

Brancati, Dawn/ Wohlforth, William C. (2021): Why Authoritarians Love the Olympics: A Boycott of Beijing 2022 Will Do Little to Deter China Foreign Affairs, in: Foreign Affairs, 100 (2): 1-4,

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Scharpf, Adam/ Gläßel, Christian/ Edwards, Pearce (2021): International Sports Events, Media Attention, and Autocratic Repression: Evidence from the 1978 World Cup,

Scharpf, Adam/ Gläßel, Christian (2020): Why Underachievers Dominate Secret Police Organizations: Evidence from Autocratic Argentina, in: American Journal of Political Science, 64 (4): 791-806,

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Zidan, Karim (2021): Could 2022 be Sportswashing’s Biggest Year? In: The Guardian, 01/05/2021,


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