London 2012: Big Burger Dystopia
Are the London Games a profit site for the corporates, or is it a home to promote Olympic values?
Edward Sainsbury London/Delhi
The first revival of the Olympic Games under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), inspired by the legacy of the ancient Greek Olympics, was held in 1896. In reviving these games, the hope was for contestants and spectators alike to adopt and demonstrate the cherished ‘Olympic Values’; these values are still being celebrated. They are identified on the London 2012 website as ‘Respect’, ‘Excellence’, ‘Friendship’, ‘Courage’, ‘Determination’, Inspiration’ and ‘Equality’. However, as I write this, and as we near the start of the games, there are signs that the Olympic values may be losing out to the insatiable interests of the corporate world.
In the past, the games have provided an opportunity for the indigenous population to reap some benefit from increased numbers of visitors to the country, such as infrastructure boom etc. However, this has invariably failed to materialise. Nevertheless, a substantial aspect of the London bid to the IOC was that the games would be used to bring a boost to the local economy; that a range of affordable tickets would be made available for local residents and that the international athletic event would lead to a major regeneration of the east end of London.
Instead, tickets were allotted in a confusing and convoluted manner; some tickets allocated to sponsors were resold at a higher price. Furthermore, it appears that the Olympic park may yield a number of white elephants (a phrase used to describe expensive buildings built with public money which fall derelict after their initial purpose has passed).
Among the other hitches, more than one million football tickets have been left unsold. The organisers are reducing capacities by 500,000 at the football venues.
A substantial aspect to the bid was regarding the legacy it would leave for East London. A key way for this to be realised is for the games to boost the local economy, provide jobs for locals and lead to increased revenue for businesses in the Stratford area and surrounding boroughs. Indeed, this boost to the economy, which is sorely needed, looks to be unachievable; the ability for local businesses to take advantage of the games with Olympic related advertising is being limited by the UK government.
The corporate giants that have invested heavily in sponsoring the Olympic park have LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) wrapped round their finger to the point that the government has passed legislation to the effect that no branding is allowed in the Olympic park unless it is one of the games’ sponsors. In the park its more exclusive; you can buy Heineken and Coke but not Pepsi, you can pay with Visa but not MasterCard, and anyone bringing food from non-sponsor brands such as Subway or Burger King into the park may find their food confiscated by the ‘brand police’. Recently, McDonalds sparked controversy when demanding that no one else be allowed to sell chips, later modifying their demand to exclude meals, including fish!
At a time when the government is experiencing declining approval ratings against a backdrop of corrupt dealings, scandals and a sense of injustice where the average man feels that the government is basically acting only for the top one per cent, this is perhaps not the best approach for them to be taking. With the latest scandal over the Libor rate fresh in people’s minds and memories of the bank bail outs, the bonus culture and several other scandals, local businesses will no doubt be unsurprised at government actions effectively censoring their advertising for the duration of the summer in the interests of the games’ corporate sponsors. Using certain combinations of words such as London 2012 in adverts or promotional material over the summer could lead to criminal prosecution if deemed to be associating themselves with the Olympics, according to certain guidelines.
Yet, this is not all. Recent investigations by members of the UK Press revealed that cleaners for the games had been flown in from abroad despite LOCOG’s promise that the jobs would go to those in local areas. Besides, those cleaners were housed in ‘prison camp conditions’ with almost 75 people sharing a solitary shower. It’s clear that ultimately corporate interests are being put first before even basic human/fundamental rights and operating standards while LOCOG has failed to take action on these findings.
We can only hope that the Olympic park won’t end up full of white elephants surrounding McDonalds: a poor testament to the games’ legacy the British government could deliver
It would be remiss to argue that the games have been entirely dominated by corporate interests, despite the seeming ‘corporate dystopia’ establishing itself in the Olympic park. The efforts made by NGOs, governmental departments, interested persons, charities and pressure groups have sought to ensure broad benefits which has seen limited success.
The UK sponsored a record-breaking Olympic Truce Resolution which saw all 193 member countries co-sponsoring the resolution and committing to the ideals of peace and conflict resolution and the premise that athletes compete as athletes free of the burden of politics or religion. There has also been a concerted effort by the government to develop a legacy through education with the ‘Get Set’ programme getting the Olympic values into schools and to increase sports participation in schools across the UK for all age groups.
However, having McDonalds, Coca Cola and Cadbury as Olympic sponsors, and the Olympic park as home to the world’s largest McDonalds, is highly ironic. It sends out mixed,contradictory signals.
Ultimately, whilst there have been efforts to show that the UK has the ability and the conviction to stand up and implement the values of the Olympics, it is clear that when it comes down to ground zero -- only money talks. Certainly, the London 2012 Olympic park looks set to be the home of big business rather than a boost to the local economy that East London really needs.
You can buy Heineken and Coke but not Pepsi, you can pay with Visa but not MasterCard, and anyone bringing food from non-sponsor brands such as Subway or Burger King may find their food confiscated by the ‘brand police’
It is expected that there will be some legacy in sports participation at the grassroots level, but limited funding means any result will be limited. We can only hope that the Olympic park won’t end up full of white elephants surrounding McDonalds: a poor testament to the games’ legacy the British government could deliver.
Indeed, the challenge is on for Rio 2016 to demonstrate that the Great Olympic Games can be used for enabling universal development and offer sustainable benefit to the local society and economy. As of now, it seems unlikely that London 2012 will meet that objective successfully.