Activists give Olympic sponsors the wrong kind of publicity

Apr 16, 2012
Tim Edwards

Public asked to vote for worst sponsor, while Charlie Brooker claims to be 'official' Olympic tweeter

ACTIVISTS have fired a warning shot at sponsors of this summer's Olympics with a campaign to ask the public to vote for London 2012's worst corporate partner. There are three options to choose from: Dow Chemical, Rio Tinto and BP.  

It is the latest in a series of stunts that are giving the sponsors of the Games the wrong kind of publicity - and ridiculing the draconian tactics being employed by the Olympics organisers to protect the investments of its corporate partners.

The stunt is organised in part by Meredith Alexander, a former member of the London 2012 sustainability watchdog, who quit in protest at Dow’s involvement in the Games. It is the first example of human rights and environmental activists coming together to attack controversial Olympic sponsors, according to The Times.

The campaign, called Greenwash Gold 2012, was due to be launched at Amnesty International's London offices tonight. The three companies the public invited to vote “the worst” all have their Achilles’ heels.

Dow Chemical, which will provide a 'wrap' for the Olympic stadium, is named because it now owns Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster which killed up to 11,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of people injured.

Rio Tinto is criticised for air pollution caused by the copper mine in Utah where it will make the Olympic medals. BP, the London Games 'sustainability partner', is targeted for the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Although the police have identified peaceful protests - along with terrorism - as one of the biggest threats to London 2012, the London Olympic Organising Committee (Locog) says it will "take no notice" of the campaign. A spokesman said: "We live in a democracy and this country has a long tradition of staging and managing peaceful protests in a sensible and appropriate manner. This right to protest must be balanced with the rights of other people."

Alexander says Locog is treating protesters "like children". She warns: "Much as they would like us to go away, it's only going to build... I'm sure they are worried and they will now pay attention."

With 102 days to go until London 2012 opens, other Olympic sponsors are feeling the heat, too

In an interview with The Observer yesterday, Professor Terrence Stephenson, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents 200,000 health professionals, called for a ban on fast-food companies sponsoring major sports events, including the Olympics.

"What can you do about this obesegenic environment we live in?" asked Prof Stephenson. "The fact that Coca-Cola and McDonald's are two of the big corporate sponsors of the Olympic Games is most unhelpful.”

McDonald's and Coca-Cola are both 'London Olympics Worldwide Partners' - and the McDonald's restaurant in the Olympic Park is, infamously, the largest in the world.

The importance of sponsorship money to the Olympics cannot be overstated. In order to secure the London Games, Britain had to introduce a special law to prevent companies that have not paid to be sponsors from benefiting by association with the Games. The use of the Olympic rings logo or a combination of the words 'Olympics', 'Games', 'London' and '2012' is now a criminal offence.

However, not even the UK Parliament can legislate against the sheer power of a popular brand. Adidas has paid a reported £100m to be the only sports brand 'Official Partner' for the London Olympics. Unfortunately, according to a survey by BrandWatch conducted between December and February, Adidas’s mortal enemy Nike - which hasn't paid a bean to London 2012 - is the brand most associated with the Olympics by internet users.

Meanwhile, stories of draconian policing around Olympics sponsorship seem only to provoke the activists and attention-seekers. Counter Olympics Network has said it will block Olympic lanes and hack sponsor websites in order to draw attention to local issues such as housing, privatisation and surveillance.

The situation is rapidly moving into the realms of farce. After it emerged last week that Twitter has agreed to work with Locog in barring non-sponsors from buying promoted ads with hashtags like #London2012, the popular Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker spent much of the weekend pretending to be "sole official tweeter of the 2012 Olympic Games", posting gems such as: "God knows who @London2012 thinks they are, but there's only one *official* London 2012 tweeter, and I have more followers, so it must be me."

Sign up for our daily newsletter