Faster, higher, stronger
The Olympic spectacle is a celebration of corporate power and money-worship, writes Eddie Ford
Consider these words - ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’, ‘summer’, ‘sponsors’ and ‘London’. Fairly innocuous, and inoffensive, you would think. However, they are some of the words that have been ‘banned’ by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (Locog) to guarantee “protection of their brand” - meaning unauthorised businesses (ie, non-sponsors) before, during and after the London games must ensure that any advertising should not give the “impression” of a “formal connection” to the Olympics.1 Otherwise you could be for the high jump.
To this end, therefore, the five interlocking Olympic rings are ‘protected’ under the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 - they are “controlled representations”. Any “unauthorised” use of trademarked logos and designs, as well as certain “listed expressions” and “protected words” - or any visual or audio representation of London and sports - may be considered by a court to be an infringement of Locog’s “rights” and thus subject to a fine of £20,000 or even possible imprisonment if you are a particularly heinous offender.
Also banned is unauthorised use of the official Olympic motto, Citius, altius, fortius (‘Faster, higher, stronger’) - previously an expression you heard all on the time on the streets of London. This journalist was personally told by someone working for a “rival credit and charge card company” to the official sponsors that she had had undergone “extensive training” alerting her to the dangers of even mentioning the “big summer event” to her clients - the outcome being that she is “legally not allowed to say ‘Olympic’ and ‘summer’ in the same sentence at work in case we invoke a lawsuit”. In her own words, the situation is “crazy” - but “that’s the shape of the Olympic values” these days.
Unsurprisingly, a number of individuals and businesses have fallen foul of these bizarre restrictions. Such as a Leicester lingerie shop, a Plymouth café selling Olympic torch baguettes and a florist in Stoke warned by trading standards officers that she risked being sued over her window display featuring five rings and a torch made of tissue paper. Or the London ‘Olympic Café’ which was forced to change its name to ‘Café ’Lympic’. Nor can we forget the butcher ordered to remove a sign of the Olympic rings which he had made from several strings of sausages - another gross violation of copyright.
London 2012 represents corporate power gone mad, in other words. Money worship and naked profit-making backed up in the last analysis by state power and the courts.
Patiently explaining the reasoning behind this lunacy, Locog states on the official London 2012 website that “at the heart” of the Olympic brand - maybe an unfortunate choice of wording given the essentially heartless/soulless nature of the corporate games - is a “bold emblem”. This emblem is based on the number 2012, the Olympic rings, of course and the word ‘London’.2
Just in case you were too thick to realise it, the “lines reach out from the shape and angles” of the Olympic emblem to create a “dynamic geometry” that “forms the basis of all elements of design for artists, architects, sculptors and graphic designers” - making you almost think that we are being sold an alternative mystical lifestyle, as opposed to yet more crappy things we do not need or want. Furthermore, we are informed, this brilliant emblem - clearly a work of creative genius - has enabled commercial sponsors to “demonstrate a real partnership”.
Getting to the commercial nitty-gritty, Locog declares that the London 2012 brand is our “most valuable asset”, so they “must protect its value”. Authorised profit-making only, please. Once the Olympics have ended, the brands will “live on” - these living, immortal brands still “need to continue to communicate the ethos” of the games - well, they certainly do that. Money, money, money.
In this way Locog hopes to “preserve the value and meaning” of the Olympics for “generations to come” - call it a moral obligation, if you like. Though, having said that, a “more immediate need and obligation” is to “protect and maintain the current commercial value” of the London 2012 brand. Thus in return for investing in the Olympics, Locog has “promised our sponsors and merchandise licensees exclusive rights” to use the brands - and to be associated in perpetuity with the games.
Out of an £11.4 billion Olympic budget Locog managed to secure £1.4 billion in private-sector sponsorship. The International Olympic Committee’s 11 global partners (like Coca-Cola, Visa and Proctor & Gamble) contributed £700 million of this, while the London 2012 partners (including Adidas, BT, EDF, and Lloyds TSB) came up with the same amount.
Naturally, they all want a decent return - hence Britain, especially London, was flooded with the ‘brand police’. Yes, G4S may have spectacularly screwed up the security arrangements, having been totally unable to recruit sufficiently in austerity-hit Britain and forced the embarrassed government to hastily bring in over 3,500 soldiers to fill the gap. But the Olympic organisers were taking absolutely no chances with the corporate deals. Overall, some 1,000 or more various trading standards and enforcement officers are checking firms to ensure they are not staging “ambush marketing” or illegally associating themselves with the games at the expense of official sponsors.
As part of this campaign of brand protection, publicans have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers who do not have the official Olympic imprimatur. Numerous caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event. At the 40 Olympics venues, 800 retailers have already been banned from serving chips to avoid infringing fast-food rights secured by McDonald’s (although an exception was negotiated to allow the sale of “traditional” British fish and chips. Very magnanimous of them).
According to Marina Palomba of the McCann Worldgroup agency in London, the rules are the “most draconian” there have ever been in advance of an Olympic Games. In response, doubtlessly injured by such an accusation, the Olympic Delivery Authority and Locog state that the rules are “necessary” to protect the rights “acquired by companies who invest millions of pounds to help support the staging of the games” - their special privileges have been earned. People who “seek the same benefits for free” - whether by engaging in ambush marketing or producing counterfeit goods - are “effectively depriving the games of revenue”. Scandalous. Such people clearly deserve everything they get.
Inevitably, such a formidable - and intimidating - battery of laws has produced especially grotesque absurdities, even by Olympics standards. Like the idea, now almost part of modern folklore, that ordinary punters might not being allowed to enter the Olympic stadium wearing a Pepsi-branded T-shirt or Nike shoes - both companies not being official/authorised sponsors, of course.
The suggestion - made by Lord Sebastian Coe, the obnoxious former Tory MP for Falmouth and Camborne and Locog chairman3 - was later refuted by Locog. Stuff and nonsense. Of course, you can wear Pepsi T-shirts and Nike footwear - or anything you want. Rather, Locog dutifully explained, such rules would apply only to “large groups” of spectators wearing “visibly branded” clothing. Oh well, that’s OK then.
Similarly, police guarding the Olympics have been told by senior officers - under instructions from the games’ organisers - that they must not be seen with “non-authorised” snacks. If officers felt some strange compulsion to eat such products, they must empty them into “clear polythene bags” to make sure they did not “inadvertently” advertise unofficial brands. A statement issued by a Thames Valley Police spokesman pointed out that “we are expected to comply with Locog requirements” and therefore are not expected to enter the venue “with any goods that do not reflect sponsors” - although “operational effectiveness and any response to an incident will always be our priority”. God help any member of Al-Qa’eda who likes Walkers crisps or Ginsters pasties.
The Olympics are a stunning tribute to hypocrisy on just about every level you can think of - this year more than most. One of the main functions of the games, supposedly, is to promote “active, healthy lifestyles” - or so we read in a statement from the IOC. And Locog’s own policy for food provision prattles on about the need for “diversity”, “hygiene”, “health”, “nutrition”, “sustainability”, etc.
Yet many of the sponsors are corporate manufacturers of junk food - or, to be even blunter, make shit that is polluting our stomachs and the wider environment as well. There must be a million and one medical/scientific reports detailing how processed foods high in sugar and salt are leading to obesity and all manner of other conditions and illnesses. But the games are dominated by companies like Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Heineken and, of course, McDonald’s - not exactly organisations renowned for their services to gastronomical excellence and healthy living.
Food sellers in general must comply with food outlet specifications which require the “prominent display” of Coca-Cola branding, thus leaving limited space for the promotion of their own products. Piling hypocrisy upon hypocrisy, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola retorted that it is the “responsibility of the individual to make their own purchasing choices”.
Quite sickeningly, private landlords have made a killing out of the Olympics too - every day will be Christmas. In February 2012, the housing charity, Shelter, extensively highlighted how landlords in east London were “acting unscrupulously” by massively raising rents or hurriedly writing clauses into new rental contracts stipulating that tenants must vacant the premises for the duration of the games - effectively making them homeless. One estate agent said properties typically rented for £350 per week in London were now being marketed for £6,000 - profiteering on a staggering and shameless scale.
What about those other fine ideals, such as free speech and democracy? Forget it. The IOC has produced a “social media guideline” which inhibit athletes’ right to free communication. Under these rules athletes are not permitted to “report on the competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons” or “disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation” - sworn to commercial secrecy.4 Furthermore, the IOC will not allow videos and audio recorded within the Olympic venues to be broadcast via social media outlets, nor will tweets or posts deemed to be endorsing a non-authorised company be tolerated either.
In other words, athletes are expected to censor themselves and under no conditions are they allowed to utter anything remotely controversial or radical - ie, they must be ‘non-political’ and ‘professional’ for the entire length of the games. The organisers of the 1936 ‘Hitler Olympics’ would be proud.
Indeed, so paranoid is the IOC about any possible transgressions of the rules/guidelines - brand protection comes way before democracy - they have even created a password-protected website dedicated to rooting out all “unauthorised” behaviour - their very own grass hotline, so to speak (‘Olympics Games Monitoring’): “The IOC will continue to monitor Olympic online content to ensure that the integrity of rights-holding broadcasters and sponsor rights as well as the Olympic charter is maintained. The IOC asks for the support of all participants and other accredited persons in halting any ambush activity or any sites engaged in conduct which is offensive to or adversely affects the goodwill associated with the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement. The IOC asks that participants and other accredited persons discovering unauthorised content, please report it immediately.”5 As the Weekly Worker goes to print, we are glad to report that the site appears to have crashed.
For communists the London 2012 Olympics Games are a truly lurid and ghastly spectacle, whatever Danny Boyle manages to conjure up in the opening ceremony on July 27 - though you can predict with relatively certainly that it will be far removed from the genuine splendour of 28 days later or Sunshine. Every Olympic game, ancient and modern, has been about pitting state against state - warfare by other means. The global elite are coming to town and the British government - to name one - is going flat out to make every business and political deal it can. Meanwhile, working class sports fans can barely afford a ticket or engage in any actual sporting activity themselves - local facilities are being closed down or are just too prohibitively expensive in a time of austerity, wage-cuts and job losses. Instead, just gawp passively at the athletes on the television.
The national one-upmanship and horse-trading that invariably attends the Olympic Games themselves is a fitting, though extremely unedifying, example of how sport under capitalism is turned into its virtual opposite. Rather than being a genuine means of self-expression and self-fulfilment, played for the simple joy of the sport itself, it is utterly driven by commerce and, of course, chauvinism - Team GB can compete with the best. Wave the flag. Sing the national anthem.
Nor do communists buy for a second the reactionary baloney that egotistical competitiveness is inherent to the human predicament and that therefore the Olympic Games - and other elite events - somehow ‘prove’ that the cream always rises to the top: that capitalism corresponds to an eternal human nature. Bullshit. Crucially, sports should be easily accessible and accountable to all. Class society squanders and stifles talent, in the field of sport just like in all others - with the privileged few getting treated like monarchs in elite academies or schools, while the rest of us have to make do with street cricket or football. Or else just forget it - get a Sky subscription instead.