This is not a humorous parody from The Onion. What follows is an excerpt from a serious news interview hosted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: The Olympic Games are estimated to cost British taxpayers a staggering $17 billion. At the same time, Brits near the Olympic Park have been subjected to sweeping censorship laws enacted by their government at the behest of the International Olympic Committee. The laws limit the use of Olympic language and imagery to—strictly to official sponsors, such as Visa, McDonald’s, GE.
. . .
AMY GOODMAN: And a mock awards ceremony at the Olympic clock in Trafalgar Square descended into farce after police arrested six people taking part. Three people pretending to be corporate representatives from BP, Dow and Rio Tinto were awarded gold medals for being the worst corporate sponsors of the Olympics, before having small quantities of green custard poured over their heads. The good-natured performance took about 15 minutes. It was clearly amusing to a number of passersby, until 25 police officers arrived and arrested six people, including the three corporate representatives and people who were mopping up the small amounts of custard on the ground.
Well, for more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Jules Boykoff, associate professor of political science at Pacific University, currently a visiting scholar at the University of Brighton. He was born in England since—he’s been in England since April following the build-up to the Olympics. He’s writing a book on dissent and the Olympics and played for the U.S. Olympic soccer team in international competition from 1989 to 1991. His recent piece in the New York Times is called “Olympian Arrogance.”
Jules Boykoff, welcome to Democracy Now! Well, tell us what you’re seeing there and why you titled your piece “Olympian Arrogance.”
JULES BOYKOFF: Well, what we’re seeing here are a lot of what you’ve outlined in terms of the intense militarization of the public sphere. And it really does go back to the International Olympic Committee, or the IOC. And that’s what we are getting at with “Olympian Arrogance.” If you want to understand the crass commercialism of the Games, if you want to understand the intense militarization of the Games, it makes sense to start with the IOC.
And the IOC has always been a privileged sliver of the global 1 percent. Going back to the 1890s, when it was started by Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, he basically assembled a hodgepodge of counts and dukes and princes together to run the show. In the subsequent, basically it’s remained this basically old boys’ club. In fact, they started allowing wealthy business elites into the club. And only in 1981 did they start to allow women to be members of the IOC.
And it’s not just the composition of the IOC that some might find a little bit problematic; it’s the dictates that they impose on host cities. So, for example, right before they make the final selection for who’s going to host the next Olympics, all the candidate city finalists have to sign a document that promises that they will follow all 33 of the IOC’s technical manuals down to a letter. A lot of that has to do with brand protection, which I’ll get to in a second. But it also has to do with creating new laws in the country and the host city that conform to the principles of the IOC. So, here in London, what they did was they passed the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic Act, which did all sorts of things. You mentioned it’s illegal to use the words “2012″ and, say, “medals” for commercial purposes in any form, and you can receive a 20,000-pound fine. This all goes back to the IOC and what they set up and impose on host cities.
And that’s why you’re seeing, when you look around—you said I was here since April, so I was here for the Jubilee, actually. And when the Jubilee happened for the queen, there were signs in windows, there were people celebrating, shops put little placards up and that sort of thing. Well, right now, during the Olympics, you’re really not seeing that very much, because people are afraid that they’re going to get cracked down on. Just a couple examples. A butcher put a bunch of sausages up in his window in the shape of the Olympic rings; he got asked to take them down. Somebody in Plymouth put up on their menu a “flaming torch breakfast baguette,” and they were asked to take it off the menu. A florist was—put up a little display in the front of her store in the shape of the Olympic rings; again, told to take it down or face a 20,000-pound fine. So, the IOC is really where a lot of this starts.
AMY GOODMAN: Jules Boykoff, the—talking about the various corporations, we remember in the Canada Olympics, in the Vancouver Olympics, the law passed by the local city council saying athletes couldn’t criticize the sponsors. Talk about who these sponsors are and what’s allowed to be said.
JULES BOYKOFF: Sure. Well, the sponsors are the elites of the global elite from corporate—the corporate world, so you have Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cadbury. These aren’t exactly the firms you might think of when you think of elite athleticism. You’ve got all of them. They started a new thing in London called “sustainability partners.” And somewhat unbelievably, one of the sustainability partners is actually BP, which you mentioned at the outset, also EDF Energy, which is a big pusher of nuclear power here in Europe.
And so, you see a lot of the commercialism playing out all across the country, in terms of what people feel like they can and can’t say. I mean, people have been on red alert and worried about protesting, in certain respects. Take, for example, the group Space Hijackers. They made themselves the official protesters of the 2012 Olympic Games. They made it into their little icon on their Twitter page. Twitter asked them—presented them with a cease-and-desist order, and cracking down and saying, “You can’t do this.” So it’s very widespread, the sort of crackdown that you’re seeing.
One other thing I want to say about this crackdown, though, who are these brand police? They are the ODA, or the Olympic Delivery Authority. The ODA is actually a public body. It’s publicly funded. And it is a public body that’s doing the bidding, basically, of these private firms. So they’re the ones—the public ODA is going around enforcing and being essentially the brand police. And this is a dynamic we kind of see over and over again, where the public pays, in the case of the Games—or the public carries out the brand policing, and then the private firms actually are there to profit.