Throughout their history, the Olympics Games have always been more about sport. From the Munich massacre to Cold War Boycotts to the Black Power Salute, the games are often seen a unique opportunity to air political and social griefs on a world stage. Indeed, in many ways, large international events – especially the Olympics – likes to consider themselves as a tool for furthering world peace and social justice.
Yet, in 2012, this has been far from the case. On 22nd April, in the fourth Formula One Grand Prix of 2012, Sebastian Vettel stormed to his first victory of the season in Bahrain. Outside of the glitzy circuit, thousands gathered, protesting against the ruling monarchy and its repressive regime where political freedom is non-existent and the majority Shia population are brutally treated as unequals.
Over 100 million people tuned in to watch Azerbaijan host the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite its origins – as a programme to bring about peace and harmony in a war-torn Europe – the competition will be held in a state, ruled by a autocratic oligarchy, where instances of corruption and human rights abuses are rife.
And this summer, Poland and Ukraine hosted, the European Football Championship 2012; the latter of which is ruled by a government tarnished by sleaze and with a blatant disregard for political freedom – most infamously in the case of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who is currently in jail for opposing the government. Both host nations also have large scale racism, anti-semitism and Neo-Nazi movements with violent attacks on ethnic minority groups commonplace.
The events did nothing to change the domestic problems within this nations; in fact, more likely, they legitimised the ruling governments. Despite its location in a liberal western European nation, London 2012 was no different; acting as a negative changer for domestic issues and global human rights.
The Great Commercialisation
Since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the Olympics has become an event driven by commercialisation and sponsorship. It was the end of the era in many ways as the games lost its amateur status; it was, nonetheless, a necessary step in order to help the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and host nations foot the ballooning bill for the event.
However, many of the chosen partners conflict with the Olympic Charter and the sport in general; the idea that McDonalds and Coca-Cola, a fast food chain and sugary drinks company respectively, sponsor the world’s biggest sporting event is, of course, both hypocritical and obscene.
The fact that the largest-ever McDonalds was situated in the Olympic Park – over 3,000 square metres with 1,500 seats being the biggest of the four at the park – sends the wrong message to children. Indeed, rather than showing the different types of food needed and the healthy lifestyle used by the athletes, it creates a dangerous link between fast food, fitness and sporting ability.
For the children this is especially dangerous link, with one in three in Britain either overweight or obese by the age of nine. Six out of every ten UK adults are also in the same classification.
Despite claims that the London Organising Committee for London 2012 (LOCOG) did not chose these sponsors, thus had no say in the matter, many of the local partners do not send out a better message, such as Heineken and Cadbury’s.
A Toxic Legacy
On 2nd December 1984, a toxic gas named methyl iscoyanate, as well as other harmful chemicals, began leaking from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Over forty tons of the gas was released into the atmosphere, with wind spreading it over the surrounding area; over towns, villages, homes and fields. The leak became the worst industrial disaster ever, killing between 7,000 and 10,000 men, women and children. 20,000 people died in the aftermath of the catastrophe with another 500,000 being exposed to the leak, leaving 100,000 others permanently injured and/or experiencing significant health problems.
The leak became the worst industrial disaster ever, killing between 7,000 and 10,000 men, women and children.
Fast forward twenty-six years and an company called Dow Chemical sign a $100 agreement with the IOC to become Olympic Sponsors for the next ten years. The company features promintely in advertisements, including sponsors the London 2012 games; in the middle of the majestic Olympic park lies its standout contribution with a £7million fabric wrap for the 80,000 centrepiece stadium.
In the wake of the tragedy, UCC made no effort to clean up the disaster area and never fully disclosed any details of the investigation; except to conclude that only deliberate sabotage could be blamed, thus abstaining itself from any guilt. The air around the site – as well as local water sources – remained polluted, with thousands still depending on them to live.
Dow has also refused to clean up the site, despite the fact that it has now possess ownership of the responsible company. Victims and their families have also failed to be compensated adequately – a fund of £288 million was the finalised compensation settlement in 1989 – nor have any employees of the organisation been held to account.
The sponsorship of the games was seen as a way for Dow to legitimize its claim of having no responsibility for the case and to improve its public image. In many ways, it has worked; unlike McDonalds and Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical is not a world-renowned company, thus the issue remains unknown by most. LOCOG went as so far as to deny the link between Dow Chemical and Bhopal.
The reality, however, is far different. The company knows it has a duty to the many victims; this was seen by a Wikileaks release that showed how the company had paid a private intelligence firm to spy on Bhopal activists.
As Britain partied (and Dow got richer), thousands of victims continued to live in inhumane, dangerous conditions, suffering from deformities and other health problems. London 2012 was tied to one of the worst human rights abuses of the 20th and 21st century.
This article is an extended version of the one that appeared in Issue One of the Wessex Scene Magazine.
Read Part Two tomorrow, which will discuss how other problems with London 2012 including a hypocritical Paralympic sponsor, tax breaks and an Olympic legacy?