From July 27 to August 12 2012, London will play host to the 30th Summer Olympic Games. The city won its bid in 2005, through a process that became one of the many controversies plaguing the Games. The bid was led by former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, who heads the organising committee for the games.
Despite concerns related to security cost, risk of terror attacks, and even devaluation of property once the Olympics are over, the committee has tided over most of the issues that have cropped up. The one that continues to cause tension is the £7-million sponsorship by Dow Chemicals, the parent company of Union Carbide, held responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
How did London Win the Bid?
By July 15 2003, nine cities had submitted bids to host the 2012 Olympics: Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York City, Paris and Rio de Janeiro.
Of these, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, and Paris were shortlisted. Even though the visit of the inspection team from the International Olympic Committee coincided with riots in Paris, the French capital was considered the favourite to win the bid. On July 6, 2005, London squeezed past by a narrow margin. The French media blamed then President Jacques Chirac’s statement that the British had the worst food after the Finnish, when two members of the IOC were from Finland.
How is London Organising the Olympics?
After the success of the bid, two bodies were created: the London Organising Committee to oversee the implementation and staging of the games, and the Olympic Delivery Authority to get the venues and infrastructure in place. The government appointed a unit, the Government Olympic Executive, to supervise the £ 9.3 billion of public sector funding, among other things. The IOC’s Coordination Commission has already made nine visits to London to check on its progress, and is due to make a final visit in March.
A mixture of old stadiums and new venues will be utilised for the Olympics. Most of these fall into three zones within Greater London: the Olympic Zone, the River Zone and the Central Zone. The football matches will be held in stadiums across the UK, and some competitions, such as sailing, will be held outside London.
A 500-acre Olympic Park has been built. This caused a hullaballoo for a while, as several companies and families were forced to relocate for acquisition of this land. Despite several campaigns, the protesters lost out.
The transport system is being given a boost too. Since public transport was one of the areas that London scored low on during the bidding process, Transport for London has set about expanding some of London’s underground and overground lines, introducing a new bullet-train service called Javelin, and making improvements to the Docklands Light Railway. Plans for constructing a cable car link across the River Thames, at a cost of £25 million are under way.
Who are the Mascots?
On May 19, 2010, the mascots for the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics were unveiled simultaneously — they are Wenlock and Mandeville, animations representing two drops of steel. The mascots are named after the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, which hosted a forerunner to the current Olympic Games, and Stoke Mandeville, a village in Buckinghamshire, which staged a forerunner to the Paralympic Games.
What are the Controversies?
The Bidding: In December 2005, IOC official Alex Gilady claimed there had been a voting error, which had given London the winning bid, but his contention was dismissed.
Ticketing: Though only 6.6 million tickets were made available, more than 20 million tickets were sold, and then withdrawn. The fact that money was taken out of bank accounts before people knew what tickets they were being given didn’t sit well with consumers, but the LOC stood by the system.
Scheduling: As the duration of the Olympics nearly coincides with Ramadan, there are concerns that Muslim athletes who are fasting may be at a disadvantage. Calls for rescheduling have not been heeded.
The Logo: This has been at the centre of several controversies. Created by brand consultancy Wolff Olins at a cost of £400,000, the logo triggered off ridicule and protest when it was unveiled on June 4, 2007. Some said it looked like a distorted Swastika, while Iran claimed it spelt ‘Zion’ and temporarily threatened to boycott the Games. The organisers insisted it represents ‘2012’, but some people thought of some rather naughty interpretations. Animated footage released along with the logo was reported to have triggered epileptic attacks in people suffering from photosensitive epilepsy.
Social Media Guidelines : The IOC’s guidelines seem to prevent athletes from commenting on other participants, promoting their own sponsors, or using the word ‘Olympic’ except under certain circumstances, on their websites and other social media. This has been criticised for hindering their freedom of speech.
Last year, it was revealed that the Dow Chemical Company is one of the partners of the Games, having signed a deal for £7 million dollars. The sight of the specialised decorative wrap it was commissioned to produce for the Olympic Park set off protests across the world.
Thousands of survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy burned Sebastian Coe in effigy, and blocked train lines on December 3, 2011, the 27th anniversary of the disaster, in protest. Coe refused to budge, and as some sort of defence, said his maternal grandfather was Indian!
Dow Chemicals is also notorious for manufacturing Agent Orange and napalm, which were used during the Vietnam War. Protesting the sponsorship, campaigner Meredith Alexander, one of the volunteers on the Olympics’ watchdog body, the sustainability commission, resigned last Wednesday.
On Sunday, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan demanded India boycott the Olympics if Dow Chemicals remains a sponsor, and said the Centre should speak to the organisers in London. Despite fears of a boycott, though, so far the Indian Olympic Association has said there is no question of India doing this.