Now that the Olympics and Paralympics and all the associated excitement are over, there is more space to remember the reasons for the widespread criticisms of the Games long before they arrived in London. In the years following the Games, we will see how the real legacy pans out and remembering the whole story will assist us in understanding this legacy. Corporate Watch made the articles in this briefing available online in an Olympics Special during the Games to highlight the corporate nature of the Games and the wide range of criticisms, from loss of green space to increased surveillance, from sweatshop working conditions to tighter border control, from gentrification to repression of protest, from unethical corporate sponsors to operations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). By no means do the articles cover all the issues that the Olympics has brought up in London or beyond, but it is hoped that they will give the reader a good idea of a variety of issues.
The articles have been compiled together with the help of people around the world who have been affected by the Games in their city or have been involved in campaigning against and reporting on the global Olympics industry as a resource for people affected by future corporate Games, so that the similarities, differences and any emerging patterns between different Olympics can be analysed and appropriate action taken. The Olympics provides a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between states and corporations. According to independent journalist Mike Wells, who we interviewed for the article about security: “It is a fascinating thing to observe. It operates more or less like a state, yet it’s small enough that, with enough effort, you can see its workings and mechanisms.” Dutch architecture, research and urbanism studio XML recently published a report, Olympic Cities, in which they argue that democratic nations will no longer be able to host the Olympics in future due to increasing tensions between the public interests of democracies and the commercial interests of the Games. The future of the Olympics is definitely not certain.
The first article Bread and Circuses outlines some key events in the history of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and explains how it operates as a global brand and how it generates and uses its funds. The next article – Preparing London for the corporate Games: the Docklands planning model – takes a look at how London’s history of questionable planning made the city an ideal location for the Olympics and explains how legislation and ‘democratic’ processes were adapted to enable London to fit into the IOC’s global game.
Security Games: Surveillance, repression and activism around the London 2012 Olympics, is an interview with photographer Mike Wells, who was arrested on the site of a contentious Olympic construction project. Calais: Olympics border control repression outlines how the repression of migrants in Calais increased as a direct result of the Olympics, how corporations have benefited from this and how Olympics sponsors are causing further problems in France.
The next two articles take a look at environmental issues. The real environmental impacts of holding the Olympics in East London outlines some history of the green spaces and ecology in the five Olympic boroughs, investigates the environmental impacts of the Games in East London and looks at how the Games have a history of greenwash. Greenwash Gold 2012 Campaign, looks at the campaign which aimed to expose the unethical and unsustainable practices of some of the companies sponsoring the Olympics: BP, Dow Chemical and Rio Tinto.
There is a great deal of useful material documenting the true nature of the Olympics industry, yet the mainstream media has such a blackout when it comes to anything critical that the more information that gets out there the better. This briefing is intended to help people learn about the real reasons why the Olympics go ahead and to serve as a resource for anyone wishing to stop the Olympics in their city while they still can, before and during the bid stage, as happened in Chicago in 2009 against the bid for the 2016 Olympics. The final article – Where now for international resistance to the corporate Olympics? – examines the effectiveness of resistance to the Games in different cities.
We could try to come up with some reasons why the Games are good to show that we’re not just trying to highlight the negative aspects of the industry. People often argue that, even though there may be many problematic aspects of the Games, ultimately it must be good for lots of people. In article three, the interview with Mike Wells, he attempts to do just that while giving an overview of the security and surveillance implications of the Games, before concluding that the security measures and corresponding profits made outweigh any positive aspects of the Olympics.
A comprehensive list of all the unethical and absurd things relating to the Olympics would take a very long time to compile, but, to reinforce how important the Olympics is as a target for action, here’s a flavour of the sorts of things that have been going on in addition to the issues already mentioned:
– G4S getting the contract for Olympics security and failing to deliver whilst being involved in numerous human rights violations worldwide (see our recent G4S company profile).
– Corporate sponsors attempting to get an Olympics tax break on profits made.
– Only being able to use Visa in Olympics venues, forcing people to go without drinks for hours.
– A two year Olympics ASBO given to a peaceful protester who was part of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign, which was campaigning to save the natural beautiful habitat and recreational space from being enclosed, contaminated and destroyed for a temporary basketball training area for the Olympics.
– In the name of clamping down on supposed increased people trafficking during the Games (which is actually not the case), an increase in brothel raids, specifically in the Olympic host boroughs. This makes sex work more dangerous, because sex workers are less willing to report crimes committed against them. Also, NHS projects have found that the raids often lead to sex workers being displaced from their support networks, meaning their lives and health are more at risk.
– Lottery revenues worth £675 million being re-allocated from charities towards the Olympics in 2007. Around 10,000 charities have already missed out over the last five years and will not see the money returned for at least another decade, meaning countless more charities will find themselves without the resources to carry on.
– Bicycles being banned from over 95 per cent of London’s Games Lanes, which put cyclists’ lives at risk, according to the ETA (Environmental Transport Association). While 180 cyclists were arrested on the critical mass demonstration that took place on the evening of the opening ceremony.
– Olympics mascot statues placed in the dead of night throughout the square mile so as to avoid any opposition from locals.
– Primary school children from Thame involved in the opening ceremony told they had to wear Adidas trainers.
– The attempted banning of the ‘ravelympics’, a massive knitting circle, simply because they used a name that sounded similar to ‘Olympics’.
– The Water Chariots, the 2012 Games Canal Boat Service company, charging £95 return for boat trips from Tottenham or Limehouse to the Games.
 For an info graphic of how much each sponsor gave, see this Guardian article www.guardian.co.uk/sport/datablog/2012/jul/19/london-2012-olympic-sponsors-list?INTCMP=SRCH
 To see the Olympic Cities report, see http://public.x-m-l.org/press/olympiccitiesbook_en.html
 See this report from March 2012: www.uknswp.org/wp-content/uploads/SILENCEONVIOLENCElondonmajorofficereport19thmarch2012.pdf