Although there are positive aspects and iconic moments with every Olympics, it’s worth a little reality check as well.
1. Too much corporate sponsorship from too many irrelevant and unethical companies

From the early announcement that McDonalds would be the official food sponsor, it was clear the only real sponsorship criterion for the 2012 games was how much money and power a company has. As if selling McD’s at a major athletics event wasn’t enough, other key sponsors include Coca Cola, Cadbury’s, and Heineken.

Leading medical professionals have all waddled forward to point out the yawning chasm between the athletic events and the abundance of nutritionally deficient crap. One such was London cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, who also vented additional concerns about a nation already riddled with an obesity crisis, but, as can be seen from the Corp-Speak riddled replies of the sponsors themselves, there’s no concession on their behalf.

Even more dubious are the sponsors with questionable ethical reputations, including Dow, the chemical company who produced napalm for the Vietnam War, was involved in the manufacture of Agent Orange, and who acquired the chemical plant Union Carbide – but rejected any responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal Disaster despite over 100,000 people still suffering from the chemical leak (which killed tens of thousands at the time). The latter move has led Bhopal victims to host their own Olympics in protest).

Then there’s BP and Rio Tinto, neither of whom you’d invite to meet your mum. Allegations against the former include funding human rights abuses and death squads in Colombia as well as exacerbating poverty and environmental disasters. The latter, a mining company, has such an awful legacy of death and ecological destruction that the Norwegian Government sold its shares in the company in 2008 due to Rio Tinto’s participation in the Grasberg Mine in Papua New Guinea.

And that’s not all. The Olympics Committee themselves have been in hot water for unethical acts, such as the workers making London 2012 Olympic sportswear (for top brands and high street names including Adidas and Next) being paid poverty wages, forced to work excessive overtime and threatened with instant dismissal if they complain about working conditions.

Additionally, two London Olympics merchandise factories in China have been accused of rampant worker abuse by a Hong Kong-based non-profit workers rights organization, saying that “workers are exposed to hazardous working environments without adequate protective equipment.”

Still, at least companies like Proctor and Gamble, the world’s largest maker of household products, are happy, given they expect their sponsorship to result in $500 million of additional sales. Round of applause for P&G!

2. Arrogance towards small local businesses and communities

Not only has the choice of sponsors been dubious, but the IOC (International Olympic Committee) have been hysterically over-zealous in the protection of their logo, branding, and sponsors.

McDonalds recently forcing the Olympics Committee to ban anyone else from selling chips is one prime example of corporate bullying — as is Games boss Sebastian Coe’s outburst that any staff wearing rival brands (Pepsi, Nike) would be kicked out.

But there are many smaller examples too. Back in April, a number of local businesses threatened to sue the Olympics for being “left out to rot”, with one company claiming that LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) have been “behaving like the playground bully. ..they don’t seem to care about the welfare of their neighbours.”

Many local businesses have been paid or forced to leave the area, and those local/British companies who have gained a contract to work on the Olympics have, according to Steve Davies, been banned from mentioning the fact for 12 years, and also obliged to prevent their employees from mentioning they have done so on social network sites): “If those companies had been able to reference their work on the Olympics, it would have helped them during these tough economic times and enabled the government spending on the Games to translate into a benefit for the UK economy.”

Of course bullying and displacement of communities and businesses isn’t really a new trait nor a specifically London one. According to this fantastic and erudite comic strip by Tom Humberstone, the Centre For Housing Rights & Evictions (COHRE), the Olympic Games are one of the top causes of displacement and real-estate inflation in the world.

Humberstone also relates in the comic how the Clays Lane Peabody Estate was destroyed for the Athletes Village, displacing 430 tenants, and that there have been 80 raids in the last 18 months on brothels in Newham, (one of the five Olympic boroughs and the one with the biggest multi-cultural population, including many muslims), putting many sex workers in danger.

Teenagers from nearby Newham have also been banned from gathering near the games, and the borough’s large Pakistani community have understandably been less than impressed. The BBC has also reported on how, despite billions being promised for schemes to help local communities, the area around the Olympic park remains plagued by slum housing.

Claims of racist tactics have been underscored by other unfathomable Olympic decisions, such as the one to block The Voice, Britain’s oldest black newspaper, from covering the event by blocking their press application.

It gets weirder, though. The IOC have also been responsible for the arrest of local professional artists like 38-year-old Darren Cullen and others “on suspicion of inciting to commit criminal damage” – despite having no record of graffiti nor previous arrests. Graffiti artists in general – including Banksy – have been forbidden to own spray paint or to be within one mile of any Olympic venue in London or elsewhere in Britain.

In fact the very use of the word ‘Olympic’ risks an enforcement lawsuit from the IOC, as do other connected words and phrases including London, 2012, games, medals, gold, silver and many more. The Spectator lists a slew of bizarre incidents of such enforcement, such as an Easyjet photographer who was banned from raising a Union flag above her shoulders during a shoot, and was forced to change from a white tracksuit to an orange T-shirt; a butcher in Weymouth was told to remove his display of sausages in the shape of the Olympic rings; and a small village in Surrey stopped from running an &”Olympicnic” on its village green.

The latest incident, reported just today, sees the IOC banning Radio 4 streaming their shows internationally.

Image courtesy of Modern Toss.

3. Overbearing military presence

Hand in hand with this bullying is a huge and questionable security presence. Some 23,700 security guards are on duty to protect venues, including 13,500 military personnel. Just last week an extra 3,500 soldiers were placed on standby because the world’s biggest security firm, G4S, said it might not be able to supply the 10,400 security guards it had promised as part of a multi-million dollar deal. More complaints have emerged not only from Olympic officials but also from employees themselves.

The additional 3,500 troops will take the overall number of security personnel at the Games to 17,000 – almost double that currently deployed in Afghanistan. According to this CBC story, soldiers “are now operating the X-ray scanners and metal detectors at the International Media Centre and men and women in fatigues are everywhere around the Games site. Add to this the 5000-volt electrified fence (17.5 kilometres) that surrounds the Olympic Park, the ever-growing reach of the closed-circuit TV cameras that constantly watch over Britain’s capital, and the plans to put as many as six surface-to-air missile batteries atop downtown buildings, and it is hard not to think of London right now as a city under siege.”

A recent Canadian article revealed how “HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s biggest and newest warship, is moored in the Thames at Greenwich as a command centre. Only minutes away from the Olympic Park, attack and transport helicopters line the pocket aircraft carrier’s flight deck more presumably crammed into bays hidden below. The most modern radars in the world are being deployed at multiple locations across London.

Scanning the expected four million Olympic visitors will be thousands of security-surveillance cameras in a city already known to have a greater concentration of them than anywhere else in the world. In the skies above the throng will be manned and unmanned surveillance drones. They will share that airspace with Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets conducting around-the-clock patrols from a base near the city.”

Even more invasive have been the (frankly bizarre) surface-to-air missiles embedded on locals’ rooftops, usually without any consultation or consent from residents. Subsequent protests have recently been overturned in the high courts, leaving lawyer David Enright to state: “The clear implication of today’s judgement is that the Ministry of Defence now has the power to militarise the private homes of any person.”

4. Transport issues, terrible ticketing & general disregard for ordinary Londoners

The Games Lanes – roads reserved for members of the “Olympic Family” such as officials, competitors and sponsors – have been a massive bugbear since they were announced, especially since normal motorists face a £130 fine if they use them. They’ve been nicknamed ZiL Lanes, after the principal roads in Moscow once dedicated to vehicles carrying the senior officials of the Soviet Union, and have already begun causing congestion problems – despite denials from the Olympic officials

London’s cab drivers aren’t impressed with the lanes as it means they are forced to work the minor roads with a subsequent loss of earnings. Many are protesting and threatening to strike. Meanwhile, London bus drivers called off their planned strike and accepted a 577-pound ($900) Olympic bonus that was offered to them in recognition of increased workload during the Games. And the airports were under strain even a few weeks ago, so who knows how they’ll hold up as more people arrive.

Needless to say, the transport infrastructure was always going to be pushed, but Londoners – and visitors – are justifiably confused about the contradictory messages of “come to the Olympics!” and the voice of eccentric Etonian mayor Boris Johnson urging everyone to “Get ahead of the Olympics” by staying at home, trying different routes or not using public transport if they can help it.

The ticketing has also been badly handled. The decision to sell tickets on a lottery basis caused immediate problems, not least the likes of gold medal-winning cyclists Chris Boardman and Bradley Wiggins not being able to get any, and 250,000 of the 1.8m people who applied for Olympic tickets also left with nothing.

Many ordinary Londoners and Brits have either been priced out of the games, or couldn’t get hold of any tickets when they tried the second time and also the third time.

More anger ensued when it emerged Spain couldn’t shift many of its allocation and had to put them back on the market – but not to Brits. And the Australians aren’t happy with their ticketing agency either, with hundreds of people reportedly awaiting tickets, with some Games attendees saying they have been queuing for hours and many have not been getting the seating they paid for.

But even getting tickets apparently doesn’t solve the stress. Yesterday, on the eve of the launch of the games, hundreds of people were forced to queue for several hours before the Mexico v South Korea game, both to collect pre-paid tickets and buy tickets, and some missed part or all of the game.

5. High costs & run by bell ends

Latest estimates say the games are now costing £24 billion – some ten times higher than the original 2005 estimate. And this at a time when the British government are drastically cutting public spending. Are they worth it? Can people even focus on the actual sporting aspect with the constant reports of bullying, the strained atmosphere?

Will the Games really do anything for the people of London (who paid for it with their taxes), or will the money go to just a handful of politically-involved companies while the venues become expensive ruins?

I think this scene from one of the opening ceremonies today with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt reveals everything we need to know about the competence of the people running the show.

NB: Paul will be hosting the Slowlympics in Berlin on the 4th August – a tongue-in-cheek statement on the London Olympics. The Slowlympics will feature a bunch of silly games and will be non-profit, non-competitive (in any serious way) and will actively create connections through local culture and community. You can join the Facebook event page here.

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