Photo: Shawn Carpenter
The London 2012 Olympics are upon us. Already our media and public spaces are filling up with images of Olympian and Paralympian athletes striving to attain sporting greatness. The London organising committee (LOCOG) has publicly embraced the Olympic principles of social responsibility and fair play, promising us an ethical Games whose ‘lasting legacy’ will be lived out for years to come.
In reality, any public benefit from the Olympics will come in a distant second to private profit. Today’s Games have degenerated into a multi-billion dollar scramble by multinational corporations to associate their brands with the Olympic spirit, and companies are prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege. No other sporting event offers such a positive image of capitalist enterprise in the service of a higher cause.
Exclusive monopoly rights are an essential part of the sponsorship deals signed with Olympic partners. Visa will be the only credit card accepted at any Olympic venue, just as it was for those trying to buy tickets for the Games last year. McDonald’s will be the only branded food that can be sold at the events and Coca-Cola the only drinks provider. Logos and adverts for competing brands will be covered up to avoid ‘contamination’ during the Games.
This privatisation of the spoils goes hand in hand with the exclusion of local communities. Businesses face prosecution if they use Olympics branding in their own commercial activities, and residents of the Lower Lea Valley will enjoy few real benefits from the legacy of the Games.
This mirrors the experience of other sporting events around the world. Local South African traders were barred from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, just as the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are already being cleared in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
For multinational sportswear companies, the Olympics represent an unparallelled marketing opportunity before a global TV audience of four billion spectators. Adidas has spent around £100 million to be the official sportswear partner of the London Olympics and sponsor of Team GB, in an attempt to overtake Nike as the number one sportswear brand in the UK.
For its part, Nike is sponsoring the US national team and top athletes Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Mark Cavendish, while Puma’s logo is emblazoned across the chest of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.
Yet these same companies are failing to play fair with the people who make their goods. According to War on Want’s new research, several factories producing sportswear for Adidas, Nike and Puma in Bangladesh do not even pay their workers the legal minimum wage, let alone a living wage that would allow them to meet their basic needs.
These findings echo the PlayFair campaign’s revelation that the official Wenlock and Mandeville toy mascots currently on sale in shops around Britain have been made in China using sweated labour. Embarrassingly for LOCOG, the PlayFair research uncovered breaches of every single one of the nine agreed standards for London 2012 merchandise.
The records of many of the other multinational corporations involved in the London Olympics have caused similar outrage (see next pages). No companies should be allowed to wrap themselves in the Olympic flag when they have been guilty of human rights violations or environmental damage in their operations. London 2012 is our opportunity to expose the commercialisation of the Olympics and reclaim the Games from monopoly capitalism. Now that would be a legacy worth celebrating.
The new War on Want report Race to the Bottom: Olympic sportswear companies’ exploitation of Bangladeshi workers is available at www.waronwant.org/olympics
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