The darker side of the London 2012 Olympics – an activist’s view


sporting excellence and feel-good factor of London 2012, but there is a rather gloomy undercurrent to the Olympics – claims activist

The circus has come to London and many people are excited by the spectacle. However, there are dissenting voices protesting against this event, which is mainly financed by British taxpayers. We are often asked the question: what have you got against sport? My answer is – nothing. I enjoy it. However, if you scratch under the surface and there are many sinister stories behind London 2012. This year’s Olympic Games has had a toxic impact from the destructive shameful sponsors’ alleged malpractices, to the cacogenic soil unearthed to build the games, its undemocratic imposition on East London and corrosive effect on peoples’ lives. It also falls during a time when protest seems necessary and under threat, especially in light of the austerity measures at a time of massive corporate greed and the ecological devastation, and human rights atrocities committed in the name of corporate profits.

The different injustices of the world are all represented at London 2012. Opposition to these issues, surrounding the games, has united more than 40 groups into the Counter Olympics Network. We staged a demonstration on July 28, which attracted hundreds of people to march through East London and unite on the green of Wellington Park to hear speeches and share critiques. This group gained insight from the counter Vancouver movement and will pass on the flame to Russia and then Brazil. In the next Olympic cities, the machine is already being used to bypass the democratic process: to gentrify and commercially develop neighbourhoods, increase military-style security and prioritise the needs of the elites at the expense of the poor and groups that society deem undesirable.

Save Leyton Marshes is one of the groups involved with the CON. It is a locally-organised group, which formed months ago in reaction against the destruction of this unique London ecological area. Their objections have been ignored, despite viable alternative venues for the basketball training facility. The bulldozing of peoples’ lands and rights has similarities to the corporate sponsors’ global malpractices with precious green space destroyed and dissenters even imprisoned for trying to prevent the destruction of nature. The Leyton residents’ lives were also placed at risk when unexploded bombs were dug up and, as promised, measures were not implemented to deal with toxic and carcinogenic soil. This group has also been charged £20,000 in costs for daring to legally challenge the decision to wreck the marshes. It seems with democracy and the Olympics: you have the right to speak – as long as you do not disagree.

Olympic dissent has also been generated because some of the 2012 sponsors allegedly profit from peoples’ misery and destroy the planet, whereas other corporate giants that gain from the games branding have been key players in creating the banking crisis or the vastly unequal economic system. This includes from corporate crimes such as tax evasion. Sponsor Lloyds TSB allegedly invested in toxic loans blamed for causing the economic crisis. The British taxpayer bailed them out, with other failed banks, which cost Britain more than £124bn. This is almost twice the amount the coalition government planned to cut in public services when it came into office. It’s original austerity measures were set at £83bn over four years. Lloyds TSB is also under investigation as part of the Libor Scandal – perhaps the worst scandal to emerge about international banking. Furthermore, as shareholders, we have allowed them to use our money to let them sponsor the Olympics. Additionally, some banks also finance the illegal manufacture of cluster bombs. Why people striving for athletic excellence are connected to improving the reputation of these companies is beyond me. Three other London 2012 corporations and their actions make them focal points for global protest campaigns – DOW the “sustainablity partner”, BP and Rio Tinto.

Some partner companies allegedly finance human rights suppression in Colombia, destroy peoples’ lands and lives in Papua, have created Napalm and Agent Orange, refuse to honour their responsibility for the Bhopal Disaster in 1984 and have polluted the Gulf of Mexico with 200 million gallons of crude oil – to name but a few misdeeds. The extent of destruction behind the Olympics is also shown by the actions of another famous company that is accused of stealing lands in India; complicity with fraud in Liberia; actively supporting the denial of Bosnian genocide and being about to build the largest industrial development in the Arctic Circle.

The scale of global social justice is a real endurance event to behold. The level of security and suppression of human rights is another example, from security fences, missiles on rooftops, warships in the Thames to curfew zones – where two or more people can be sent home after dark. London activists knew that the event would threaten the right to protest and civil liberties. However, the 182 arrests from a monthly cycling gathering, which coincided with the opening ceremony was shocking. Not least, the alleged level of repression by police officers including the use of pepper spray and a dubious blanket section order, which barred possibly 2,000 cyclists from cycling North of the Thames.

The authorities applied a great deal of hope about the legacy London 2012 for East London, whereas many now speak of aftermath. Maybe a glimmer of positivity will be that it is a focal point to highlighting the inhumanity of corporate greed and the British Government’s willingness to bulldoze local peoples’ rights and needs. The number of unscrupulous actions connected to the Olympics raises the question why? On one level, possibly the Olympics attracts the worse corporates – who see it as an opportunity to improve their image without the expense of having to alter their behaviour. However, the links with the Olympics impact suggest a far more cynical narrative really describes the situation; feeding further fuel to the fire that highlights that corporations are ran for profit, and with the assistance of governments will ruin peoples’ lives, livelihoods and lands.

It would be amazing in the future if the question was to change to: why did you not protest against London 2012? Was that not one of the last unethical corporate games? The one where everyone started to realise it undemocratically imposed itself, attacking the community on the poorer side of a major city? After that one, didn’t they start making it fit the ideals within its branding?

Steve Rushton is member of the Counter Olympic Network campaign group as well as working as a writer and political researcher

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