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The metals for the London 2012 Paralympic medals will be provided by mining giant Rio Tinto (Photo credit: LOCOG)

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Will London 2012 sponsors BP, Dow, EDF and Rio Tinto tarnish the Olympic brand?

Matilda Lee

14th December, 2011

In a values tug of war, many are asking whether London 2012 corporate sponsors like BP, Dow and EDF live up to the Olympic spirit?

In just seven months London opens its doors to the world for the ‘greatest show on earth' and while the 2012 Olympics have been billed as the ‘greenest Games ever', there are concerns that the corporate sponsors and partners whose logos will forever be associated with the 2012 Games do not live up to the ‘Olympic spirit'.

Sustainability has been paramount to the London 2012 Olympics - from the initial bid, to the building of the low-carbon Olympic Park through to the Games legacy.

But equally critical to the Games are the corporate sponsors - who are putting up more than £1 billion towards a total £2 billion budget.

According to a spokesperson, London 2012 - made up of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) - have stringent requirements for the procurement process and all sponsors, licensees and suppliers have to adhere to sustainability guidelines.

Yet it would seem that some of the headline sponsors, companies given a ‘once-in-a-lifetime chance' to access the powerful business benefits of being associated with the Games - are at odds with the Games' sustainability agenda.

In October, controversy around Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the Olympic Stadium wrap erupted after Indian activists protested against the deal with Dow, which now owns Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

A London 2012 spokesperson said, ‘Dow have been a worldwide sponsor of the Olympic movement since 2010 in a deal with the International Olympic Committee [this partnership allows it rights of association with London 2012]. LOCOG appointed them as a supplier earlier this year following a full procurement process. Finally, they won't have their logos on the wrap.'

Darren Johnson, Green member of the London Assembly and Deputy Chair of the Environment Committee voiced his concerns about Dow sponsorship in a letter to London 2012 Chairman Seb Coe on November 24th. Johnson says, 'to pretend that their name won't be associated with the Olympics is plain wrong - they wouldn't be putting money into it if there wasn't something in it for them. Having Dow as a sponsor has a potential to tarnish the Olympic brand.'

The issue is set to escalate as yesterday, the President of the Indian Olympic Association announced that the IOA will be officially asking LOCOG to drop Dow Chemical from the London 2012 Olympics.

Rogue partners?

But Dow isn't the only sponsorship company that is raising public alarm. Activists have also voiced concerns over the choice of corporate sponsors including worldwide partners McDonald's and Olympic Suppliers Rio Tinto. Two of the six official ‘Sustainability Partners' for London 2012 are EDF and BP.

Kevin Smith of activist group Platform says, ‘The list of Olympic Sponsors reads like such a "rogues gallery" of some of the most controversial corporate entities that it makes you wonder if they included "how many deaths has this company been responsible for" as one of the selection criteria.'

BP, the ‘official oil and gas partner' will provide fuel for over 5,000 official vehicles during the Games - the carbon emissions from which it will offset under the BP Target Neutral initiative, which also offers free carbon offsets for the journeys made by gamegoers to attend the Games. It is also sponsoring the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival in the UK.

Platform's Kevin Smith says, ‘Apart from the recent Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP in the last years has made massive investments in both tar sands exploitation in Canada and Arctic Drilling. It doesn't surprise me at all that a company like BP would be making such a big effort to portray itself as a "good corporate citizen" at a time when it is embroiled in so many environmental and human rights controversies around the world.'

The group Art Not Oil is creating a BP-free Cultural Olympiad gallery where people can submit artwork to address the ‘mismatch' of BP's Olympic sponsorship. The website states, ‘Many would refuse to work on a project sponsored by an arms company, but what if the suffering and (climatic) damage caused by oil companies was even greater?'

EDF, the ‘Official Energy Utilities' partner will supply electricity to the Olympic Park and as an official ‘Sustainability Partner' it is ‘encouraging people to change the way they think about and use energy'. EDF's website says, ‘EDF believes in the Olympic Movement and promotes the values of respect, team spirit, solidarity and performance'.

Last month, however, a French Judge found EDF guilty of industrial scale espionage against Greenpeace. EDF executives Pierre-Paul Francois and Pascal Durieux were found guilty and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for spying; including hacking into Greenpeace's computer hard drives and accessed emails and documents. EDF was also forced to pay a fine of 1.5 million euros and ordered to pay half a million euros in damages to Greenpeace.

Louise Hutchins, Senior Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace UK says, ‘The Olympic Games were founded on the Athenian values of fair play - something EDF could learn some lessons from. EDF have been found guilty of spying on Greenpeace and hacking into our computers. This behaviour has no place in a modern democratic society and flies in the face of the values and principles of the Olympic spirit'.

Long running concerns

London Assembly member Darren Johnson says he's had long-running concerns about the choice of sponsors. ‘Obviously the top-level sponsors are decided by the IOC and not London - it's bigger than London. However I think there is a need for much stricter ethical criteria for sponsorship. There seem to be so many ways in which the Olympic brand and the integrity of London to be tarnished through the use of wholly inappropriate sponsors. The idea of McDonald's and Coca-Cola sponsoring a sporting event is questionable. There is a mismatch of ideals and what's been mentioned in promoting healthy food and lifestyles.'

McDonald's will serve food to more than 20,000 athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators over the Olympic period and has built the world's biggest McDonald's inside the Olympic Park.

He adds, ‘There are a number of areas where London 2012 has been ground breaking such as the work on a low carbon design of the stadium, for example. Given that the sponsors will be part of the "greenest Games ever" choices should have been made with more scrutiny.'

What's in those medals?

Mining giant Rio Tinto will exclusively provide the metal to produce the 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals at London 2012. The metal has been sourced from the company's Kennecott Utah Copper Mine near Salt Lake City, US and from Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia. The company says its ‘passionate commitment to sustainable development' is the reason it got involved.

Next Monday, however, a consortium of civil society organisation will announce a law suit against Rio Tinto's Kennecott mine for violating the US Clean Air Act. Brian Moench (MD) of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), one of the claimants explains that Rio Tinto's Kennecott operations have poisoned the groundwater around Salt Lake City, so the county needs to pipe in its water, and its air pollution is inescapable.

UPHE adds that Rio Tinto, 'is responsible for over 30 per cent of the particulate air pollution, comprising heavy metals', and using American Heart Association guidance, calculate that 'Rio Tinto's air pollution is responsible for about 150 premature deaths every year'.

Not everyone believes the choice of corporate sponsors threatens London 2012's sustainable legacy.

Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project and one of six London 2012 Sustainability Ambassador says 'Without doubt these are the most sustainable Olympics and the LOCOG Sustainability team will leave behind much that will be admired in generations to come. Sustainability of the Games has not been compromised in any way by the sponsors because their engagement came without their ability to influence anything other than the stage dressing. The legacy however, is full of substance.'

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