Protest Is Coming to the London Olympics
By Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff
May 22, 2012
To be in London, two months before the 2012 Summer Olympics,
is to feel a bit like a fish in an aquarium, with people
constantly poking at the glass. Cameras adorn nearly every
street corner and police vehicles are more prevalent than
double-decker buses. It’s easy to understand why many are
saying enough is enough. On Saturday, July 28, protesters
will be gathering in London to just say no to the priorities
imposed by these most corporate of Olympic Games, and it’s
hardly difficult to understand why.
Security forces are busily militarizing the urban terrain.
Olympics security officials recently unboxed the military-
grade Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), an eardrum-
shattering weapon that has been war-zone tested in Iraq.
There are plans to station surface-to-air missiles on the
roofs of London apartment buildings. The Royal Navy’s biggest
warship will sit along the Thames. Typhoon jets and Lynx
helicopters will be ready for action. Scotland Yard has
stockpiled more than 10,000 plastic bullets. Police are
constructing mobile stations to facilitate swift bookings.
And "dispersal zones" have been set up where police can
freely ban anyone they deem to be engaging in antisocial
None of this comes cheap. Londoners were told that the
Olympics would cost £2.4 billion. Projections that include
ballooning infrastructure costs are now looking at £24
billion, ten times the original bid’s estimate. They were
told that the games would be funded with a "public-private
partnership," but the "private" end is now picking up less
than 2 percent of the tab. In such an atmosphere, protest is
inevitable, but the people coming out on July 28 are angry
about more than militarization and debt. There are other
issues drawing people into London’s privatized public square.
Olympics sponsorship has become a full-throttle, corporate
cornucopia. London Games sponsors include icons of health and
fair play like McDonald’s, British Petroleum and Dow
Chemical. In the name of good health, McDonald’s is handing
out "activity toys" for kids to play with after munching down
their Happy Meals. BP is - no joke - an official
"sustainability partner." Dow Chemical’s prominent presence
is a slap in the face to London’s large South Asian
population, given the notorious gas disaster in Bhopal,
India, that killed more than 20,000 people and left hundreds
of thousands more suffering in its wake. In 1999, Dow
Chemical merged with Union Carbide, the US firm responsible
for the Bhopal nightmare.
The UK Tar Sands Network has been active, helping carry out a
gutsy intervention at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where,
dressed in Shakespearean garb, activists stormed the stage
and delivered a brilliant monologue - "To BP or Not to BP?"-
and urged patrons to tear out BP’s sponsorship symbol from
Behind this Bizzarro World where McDonald’s means health and
BP stands for sustainability are the plutocrats and moral
midgets of the International Olympic Committee.
More than a year after the Arab Spring, this is one
dictatorial operation still chugging along. Originally a
decaying assemblage of barons, dukes and counts, the IOC has
now broadened its membership to include our modern royalty,
the mega-wealthy. Having only allowed women as members in
1981, the IOC is the 1 percent of the 1 percent, a global
cosmopolitan elite that drips with privilege.
To stage the games, host cities must submit to a laundry list
of IOC demands, and London is no exception. It has set aside
250 miles of VIP lanes for exclusive use by members of the
"Olympic Family," including athletes, medics and corporate
sponsors. London organizers are required to secure nearly
2,000 rooms for IOC bigwigs in the finest five-star hotels.
To control commercial space in favor of the Olympics’
corporate donors, the "Technical Manual on Brand Protection"
dictates, "candidate cities are required to obtain control of
all billboard advertising, city transport advertising,
airport advertising, etc., for the duration of the games and
the month preceding the games to support the marketing
As the games approach, and you begin to mark your favorite
athletic contests on your calendar, remember that at noon on
July 28 there will a different kind of event: when
campaigners come together not to celebrate the breathtaking
athleticism of the Olympics but to challenge the breathtaking
audacity of Olympic elites.
© 2012 The Nation
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the
Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly
published A People's History of Sports in the United States
(The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los
Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and
The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio's Edge of Sports
Radio. Contact him at [log in to unmask]
Jules Boykoff teaches political science at Pacific University
in Forest Grove, Oregon. He is the author of "The Suppression
of Dissent: How the State and Mass Media Squelch US American
Social Movements" (Routledge, 2006), and "Beyond Bullets: The
Suppression of Dissent in the United States" (AK Press,
2007). Boykoff is a former professional soccer player who
represented the US Olympic Team in international competition.
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