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.
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.
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.
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?