International Sports Events and Repression in Autocracies: Evidence from the 1978 FIFA World Cup

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How do international sports events shape repression in authoritarian host countries? International tournaments promise unique gains in political prestige through global media attention. However, autocrats must fear that foreign journalists will unmask their wrongdoings. We argue that autocracies solve this dilemma by strategically adjusting repression according to the spatial-temporal presence of international media. Using original, highly disaggregated data on the 1978 World Cup, we demonstrate that the Argentine host government largely refrained from repression during the tournament but preemptively cleared the streets beforehand. These adjustments specifically occurred around hotels reserved for foreign journalists. Additional tests demonstrate that (1) before the tournament, repression turned increasingly covert, (2) during the tournament, targeting patterns mirrored the working shifts of foreign journalists, (3) after the tournament, regime violence again spiked in locations where international media had been present. Together, the article highlights the human costs of megaevents, contradicting the common whitewashing rhetoric of functionaries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)909-926
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 317452227