Saturday, July 14, 2012

Olympics rights and wrongs

An old friend of the family, James Grote, hugely deserving of the honour, carried the Olympic torch through Oxford early on Tuesday morning.  My wife and younger son got up early to watch it pass a couple of hundred yards from our house, as the crow flies. They both came back buzzing with the excitement of it all.

Before I became a modern day curmudgeon about the political and corporate pollution and exploitation of it all, I shared that sense of awe and magic surrounding major sporting events like the Olympics, world cup & European championship finals, FA cup final, various athletics events, Gaelic games, Tour de France and even Wimbledon.

However, the government are turning London and the Olympic venues into a police state for the duration of the games. Visitors from totalitarian states won't see any difference in their treatment around the venues than that they receive from authorities at home; as they watch the VIPs being ferried, in official Olympic vehicles, rapidly and smoothly down Olympic designated lanes, whilst they wait to be processed by security with the rest of us ordinary plebs .

Special laws, like the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995, relating to the protection of corporate sponsors of the games are probably the most restrictive ever, in their scope and potential penalties should they be deliberately or inadvertently transgressed. The former law gives LOCOG the power to prevent unauthorised associations with the Olympics.  Officially sanctioned associations are called "London Olympic Association rights".  Businesses along the torch route in Oxford have been told to cover their signs as they are not entitled to any publicity that might be remotely associated with the Olympics.

The intellectual property, promotional and economic rights of the sponsors are more important than the civil rights of people attending or even linking to the website of the games or just watching the torch relay. The IOC, LOCOG and the big companies involved defend their intellectual property vigorously and some would say viciously. Never forget, for example that within the confines of the Olympic Park McDonalds is watching you.
"Due to sponsorship obligations with McDonalds LOCOG have instructed the Catering team that they are no longer able to serve chips on their own within the Olympic Park.
The only loophole to this is if they are served with fish."

I've got two tickets for a quarter final football match at Wembley and amongst the items I'm banned from bringing are musical instruments, "professional style cameras", containers with a capacity greater than 100ml. Oh but I can bring essential medication if I also bring a letter from a doctor saying I need it.

Then there is the catch all no "items with corporate or inappropriate branding, sponsorship, promotional or marketing material or literature, except for official Games merchandise and/or other football related clothing worn in good faith, any unofficial or counterfeit merchandise".

The job of the general public is to quietly acquiesce to over-reaching, abusive security theatre and consume and cheer the Olympics bread and circuses.  I love sport and like my family really want to enjoy the games. The Olympics are supposed to be about building a better world through sport - better, higher, faster, stronger - excellence, respect, friendship built on ethical values; development through sport, education through sport, peace through sport.  That idealism sadly gets lost in the real world.

I will use my tickets and hope that kids in particular can revel in and remember the excitement of the occasion. But it's really difficult to set aside the industrial scale political and corporate malfeasance surrounding it all.  Let's face it, if we all decided to engage exclusively with ethical political, public, social, economic, private and civil society actors/agents/individuals/institutions and hold them to those ethical values, the world would be a much better place.

Perhaps those of us lucky enough to have got tickets for Olympic events might start by wearing T-shirts with the insignia 'UK taxpayer: Official Sponsor of London 2012'.  After all we are paying the biggest part of the multi billion pound bill. Or would LOCOG and the IOC consider that ambush marketing?

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