Stop Thieves! The Olympics have been sanitised and stolen

I was excited enough about the Olympics to apply to be a part of the huge phalanx of volunteers needed to run the games starting in two weeks. One of the reasons I eventually turned down the place I was offered was that I wasn’t sure whether I could stomach wearing a t-shirt advertising McDonalds.

Commercial ownership

London 2012 has been superbly organised (give or take some ticketing issues) and until now the paucity of media stories over the past seven years about overrunning construction or botched stadiums is incredible. However, today’s bun fight over the sale of non McDonald chips to participants of  the opening ceremony exposes the darkest tension of the Games: the commercial ownership of an event which purports to be for all humankind.

It’s impossible to think of staging the Games without any private funding, but the iron grip that the sponsors hold over all aspects of the Olympic space is not hidden by any velvet gloves. Tickets with Visa only; branded chocolate, insurance and water; McDonald’s owning the rights to chips and woe betide unauthorised use of the word ‘Olympics’ for commercial purposes.

Sanitised Space

Tight ‘airport style security’ is not only to prevent possible terrorist attacks, but also to weed out anything that could damage or upset the reputation of the key brands. Any “overt commercial identification intended for ‘ambush marketing’” will lead to refused entry.

London 2012 has put huge store on the nation’s participation in the games…but only on it’s own terms. As a massive international festival the Olympics should be a public place for discussion, interaction and dissent. Yet ‘tents, placards, or any other item that could be used to demonstrate’ are prohibited (italics mine).


Marketing messages only

Because the only messages that London 2012 want us to hear are theirs telling us how whiter than white they are and to buy more stuff. Talking about issues like BP’s environmental record, Adidas’ treatment of workers in their supply chains or human rights in Uzbekistan? The huge tax breaks that all London 2012 sponsors have been given? Well that would be…distracting…messy…unprofitable.

The Olympic venues will be sanitised private spaces owned and controlled by mega corporations.  We are invited to the Greatest Show on Earth not as global citizens, but as subservient spectators, expected to think and do exactly as we’re told.

Resistance…and Renewal?

I love sport and I still can’t wait for the Olympics.

The principles of commitment, excellence, integrity and competitive spirit are still alive in the vast majority of athletes competing, who, remember, can’t be paid for participating.

Yet I can’t help wondering how we can find active ways to resist the grip of commercialism whilst still taking the opportunity to rejoice in, renew and make tangible the ideals of the Olympic games?

7 thoughts on “Stop Thieves! The Olympics have been sanitised and stolen”

  1. Good article Jon. I can’t help thinking that if we weren’t, as a species, so completely hooked on things that require vast amounts of money to pull off we wouldn’t keep coming across this sort of thing (the companies who part financed the stadium wanting a return on their investment). Or maybe it should have been more explicit in the sponsoring agreements that until day 1 of the games they can jolly well sod off about their exclusivity rights (and then cost their proposal accordingly)?

    An alternative would be to try and fund the “people’s games” 100% directly from the public. Perhaps there could have been an appropriate adjustment to the income tax bands to raise the necessary funds over 4 years. Or maybe we have to face up to the fact that without corporations, the “people’s olympics” that the people can afford would have to be organised on a London common somewhere in zone 3?

    Incidentally, your slight mention of the ticket fiasco got me all riled – the system of “the more money you can stand to risk on the gamble the more tickets you’re likely to scoop” thing was grossly wrong. People who weren’t bothered whether they spent £30 or £300 signed themselves up for lots of chances to win and correspondingly bagged multiple tickets when many others got none. It was a system that was supposed to be inclusive whilst allowing people to have a go for as many tickets as they liked. Why then everyone’s first choice wasn’t honoured before second tickets were handed out is beyond me.


  2. Yes my 8 year old son said to me the other day while eating some chocolate sweets and reading the packet ‘it says here this company is “the official treat provider to the Games” – how silly is that?’ -and he’s right. Its all gone bonkers – I love the events of the Olympics but the marketing and commercialisation has gone well too far.

    We are involved in running a fun day with loads of local churches with Love Streatham for everyone in the local community on Saturday – of course we want it to be Olympic themed – but of course you can’t use the logo or even the term ‘Olympics’. A truly inclusive event for everyone should be bang on with the values of the event but you can’t even use the word. Whereas McDonalds has half of London plastered with how it behind the whole thing.

    I will still love the events- but your right – too much has been nicked by the big businesses


  3. I am appalled too by the iron grip the sponsors have! Free tickets & a lot of them whilst the families of competitors are limited to two! I have commented on a lot of FB b pages today about my writing to Lord Coe to complain! After a v long time I received a reply telling me that the sponsors deserved these freebies! Says it all! Huffington Post carries a blog telling stories of small companies
    Who have made things with the 5 rings & been threatened with legal prosecution! A lady of 80 plus who did some knitting with rings was threatened! It’s a disgrace!


  4. I think the Olympics have done a terrific job of disenfranchising as many people who, like me, were terribly excited about the Games when tickets were being announced. I’ve defended the Games to other people who are much mroe stuck in the mud about it, but there have been so many things to put me off I’m amazed I still have any will left. The legal issues, the blatant over-emphasis on the terrifically low risk of terrorism (there will be more risk from walking along London’s pavements than being blown up), the authoritarianism of all the various laws, and so on. What really upset me though was the ticketing arrangements – I just felt they were very badly organised. Perhaps that’s harsh (especially now that I’ve secured some tickets for the Water Polo in the final round of sales – go me), but the way it was all arranged left a very bad taste in the mouth.
    So now I shall be turning up at the games on August 3rd, cramming myself into the Javelin train from St Pancras several hours before the games, so I can queue for ages to get in through the airport-style security (presumably staffed by the army, thanks to G4S), have my (less than 25 litres) back checked that there aren’t any vuvuzelas or whistles, liquids greater than 100ml (I can bring in an empty bottle for filling up in the grounds, though I wonder how much I shall have to pay for this), or “excessive amounts of food” (I have literally no idea what this means). Had I not managed to secure myself a ticket, though, if I had decided to brave the crowds and the annoying tourists and the crammed trains and the ridiculous security arrangements to soak up the atmosphere (and pay lots for all the assorted brands I dislike, yey me), I would still have had to pay something like a tenner to get into the grounds. Brilliant.


    1. My problem with the whole limiting of the various olympic phrases is that out of a total cost of £11billion only £700million was from sponsors -yet they yield massive control over what happens in the olympic sites and way beyond, including on the public highway.
      Yet the UK taxpayer (picking up over 80% of the tab) is unable to use any phrase linked to the event.
      Even worse – The sponsors money has been used to make London a playground for themselves and ignore those who live and work there.
      We are encouraged to walk instead of taking the tube; whilst sponsors get to use a private road system.
      How did we manage to sell ourselves and yet still pay the bill?


  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.
    Gary – hadn’t quite realised the scale of public private discrepancy moneywise . It’s a scandal that someone like Jon K as the tax payer have paid so much but can’t even use the logo to promote their own community event.
    Sam – loving the rant – and as you suggest there’s far better places for any half ‘sensible’ terrorist to target than the park itself.
    Ray – re: tickets. I was mainly trying to make the point that compared to normal Olympics (think Athens in 04 and even Beijing in 08) there’s not been a whisper about things not coming in on time or being over budget. Which is, whatever we think about everything else, a phenomenal achievement. But yes, clearly didn’t get tickets right – clearly once people were successful in ballot in getting tickets should be taken out of other ballots till everyone had some tickets. Although I have no idea whether that was technologically possible.


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