About a week ago I found myself in Cardiff, Wales searching for a place to have a tea and scam some free internet so I could do some work. The best option to meet those specifications (in the city centre of a big UK city) is always Starbucks. It was a rare beautiful and sunny day and I was desperate to get as much time outdoors as possible. When I went up to the counter to order my chai, I asked the barista why their neatly stacked patio furniture had not been placed outside yet. “We’re not allowed,” she told me, “this is the Olympic Park area and no one is allowed to set up outdoors—we could be fined £20,000.” (On account of not giving a crap about the Olympics, I had no idea that Cardiff is apparently one of the event locations.)
Turns out, that since Starbucks isn’t an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympic games, they could not set up tables and chairs on the lovely sunny cobblestone walkway outside of the café because this would be un-sanctioned advertisement for Starbucks. And this would make Coca Cola and McDonalds angry….and you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry…
As irritated as I was, I managed to find myself a spot near an open window and worked until my laptop battery died. Afterwards, I found myself a bench outside, in the sun, and settled down with a book, enjoying the (mediocre) music of 4 teenage boys innocently singing and playing guitar in front of an H&M. They were trying to promote their small band, but they also had a guitar case open in the hopes that some people would drop in a few pound coins once in a while—and some people did.
Just as they were finishing a questionable rendition of “Rolling in the Deep” (which, to be honest, I was enjoying) two Olympic officials sauntered over to them—backed up by three police officers. I keenly observed the exchange and watched as these kids were told that they couldn’t play music or collect money in the Olympic Park area. After all, this small, unknown Welsh boy band wasn’t an Official Sponsor of the Olympic Games.
The boys were very polite and understanding, and after the gaggle of cops and Olympic douchebags walked away, I suggested that the band write a few songs about Diet Coke or Big Macs and then maybe they’d be allowed to stick around.
I guess I don’t need to say much more to emphasize the fact that the sponsorship spectacle at the current Olympic Games is utterly ridiculous. Here is one of my favorite examples:
CONFUSED Olympic boss Lord Coe blundered yesterday by saying ticket-holders in Pepsi T-shirts would be barred from the Games to protect sponsors Coca-Cola.
He made the gaffe after being asked if people in Nike trainers would be allowed into the Olympic Park as fierce rival Adidas is a sponsor.
Sounding flustered, he replied: “I think you probably could… ”
When pressed, he continued: “Let’s put some reality in this. You probably would be able to walk through with Nike trainers. Does that satisfy you?”
But when asked about Pepsi, he said: “No, you probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project and into grassroots sport. It is important to protect those sponsors.” (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/olympics/4441677/Lord-Coe-No-Pepsi-T-shirts-allowedat-Olympic-Games.html)
The Olympic Games, like most sporting events, are usually adorned with an obnoxious cornucopia of sponsorship brands, but the measures London has been taking in order to ensure the “protection” of their sponsors is unnecessary and outlandish. I could go on and on and on, but to be honest, I’m pretty sure I’d be preaching to the choir.
One of the main sponsors of the 2012 London Olympic Games is Dow Chemical Corporation, “A leader in specialty chemicals delivering products and solutions to sectors such as electronics, water, energy, and coatings.” Dow also happens to be the owner of Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster and the subsequent extensive contamination of the water systems of over 16 Bhopali slum communities. As a result of this contamination, thousands of children born in Bhopal today (almost 28 years after the disaster) suffer from a myriad of physical and mental illnesses and disabilities.
When Dow was taken on as a sponsor of the Olympics—to build a gaudy, wasteful and unnecessary plastic wrap around the Olympic stadium—it sparked a controversy that played out over the past 24 months. It brought to light the hypocrisy of an event flaunted for prioritizing environmentalism, health and sustainability marred by sponsors like McDonalds (who’s advertising entices children to become obese) and Dow Chemical Corporation, who are the present day perpetrators of ongoing environmental catastrophes in India and in other parts of the world. In addition to the outrage of Bhopali’s over this sponsorship, Agent Orange victims in Vietnam staged their own protests in opposition to this shady sponsor.
In a creative an inspiring attempt to bring awareness to this offensive Olympic blunder, a “Bhopal Special Olympic” event was held on Thursday, July 26th. The games were held in a stadium located in close proximity to the abandoned Union Carbide factory; the participants, Bhopali children with physical or mental disabilities caused by Dow Chemical’s contaminated water, or due to their status as 3rd generation gas victims. (Union Carbide’s chemicals that were absorbed into peoples’ blood streams on the night of the gas disaster in 1984 have never neutralized in their bodies and therefore their children and grandchildren are also affected by the poisoning.)
The Bhopal Special Olympics kicked off with an opening ceremony meant to mock London’s one—the focus of theirs, history the British should be should be ashamed of titled “From the East India Company to Dow Chemical Company”. The opening presentation highlighted Britain’s past atrocities in India, admonishing the support extended to Dow Chemical by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in March 2012 echoed Dow’s PR nonsense that they are indeed not responsible for the gas disaster or the painfully important clean up. A broom was used in lieu of the Olympic torch to signify that Dow should clean up the factory.
Almost 50 children took part in the event and activities ranged from wheelchair racing, crabwalk racing, and assisted walking, to softball throwing and soccer. The affair attracted a crowd of local spectators as well as Indian media. Each child took home their very own Special Olympic medal.
This was a meaningful day for these children as it offered them the rare opportunity to enjoy fun, outdoor activities all the while embodying the role of empowered agent in their community’s impassioned struggle for justice.
When considering what makes someone an activist, we often think of someone who participates in protests brandishing a placard, shouting slogans and advocating for specific changes. But the children of Bhopal are redefining the concept of what it means to be an activist. By simply struggling each day to overcome the challenges of living with a disability, by thriving in spite of tragic circumstances and by carrying on the legacy of their community, these children have become inspirational and powerful activists in drawing attention to the brutal impacts of environmental destruction and corporate crime.
To sign a petition to help end the toxic legacy and bring justice to Bhopal please visit: