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Archive for November 27th, 2011

Since blogging an hour ago that Ken Livingstone would this week make a statement on the Dow Chemical/Olympics/Bhopal issue, his team have sent me the following statement that he will issue tomorrow.

This ratchets it up a few notches. As Tower Hamlets Council is expected to vote this week to lodge a formal objection to Locog, the big question now must be, locally at least, is whether the other and main host borough, Newham, will follow suit. Does its mayor Sir Robin Wales want Dow advertising the main stadium in his borough? Let’s see…

Here is Ken’s statement:

I am opposed that Dow Chemicals being a signature sponsor of the Olympic Stadium. Water supplies in Bhopalare still contaminated as a result of their wholly owned subsidiary’s activities – meaning that children in affected areas are born damaged at a rate ten times higher than in other parts of India. Dow has a moral responsibility to act to clean up the mess that the Union Carbide disaster left.

Dealing with industrial contamination was the first necessary task to transform the Olympic Park from a derelict polluted wasteland into the largest urban park in Europe. It would undermine London 2012 to take money from a sponsor that refused to clean up its own subsidiary’s mess.

Last week’s announcement that the Indian Olympic Authority is voting on whether or not to boycott the London Games shows the strength of feeling that exists on this issue. It can go as far as creating a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Games.

Bearing this in mind, do we really need to accept £7 million from Dow Chemicals so that they can rehabilitate themselves and destroy London’s reputation in the process?  Our objective should be an Olympics that is good for London, not a them-and-us Games.

The soul of the London Games is worth much more than 0.08% of its budget.

It is not too late to prevent the damage. LOCOG and the Mayor should admit that they have made a mistake.

If they can’t find another private sponsor from the other bids that they had on the table, they should use a tiny fraction of the ODA’s under-spend to pay for the stadium wrap. It would be far better to do this than to allow Dow Chemicals to exploit an opportunity that has been paid for by people in London and across the whole country.

Our thoughts should be with the victims of the Bhopal Union Carbide disaster. The Mayor and LOCOG must pull back from the brink and not risk damaging the London Olympics’ reputation, or the success ofLondon’s Olympic Games, any further.

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Further to my last post, you’ll also see on that two-page spread on the Olympics in today’s Sunday Express, a couple of other pieces on the Dow Chemical issue. Regular readers will know that I was pretty much a lone obsessive voice covering this story since the deal with Locog was signed in August. In the last week or so, everyone’s covering it, which is fantastic.

Tessa Jowell is flying to India this week, and Lord Coe probably will as well to lobby the Indian Olympic Association before its vote on a possible boycott on December 5. That date is just two days after the 27th anniversary of the 1984 disaster. I’d like to see Coe’s mirror that day.

As today’s article makes clear, Britain’s Olympic bosses felt they were put in an impossible position by Dow’s position as a global partner of the International Olympic Committee. After all, how could Locog reject Dow’s offer to pay for the wrap?? What would they tell IOC chief Jaques Rogge – that Dow wasn’t suitable?

Well, yes, quite frankly. Coe showed balls as an athlete, but as a politician, for that’s what he is remember (with designs in running World Athletics), he’s a choker.

But the question of who should pay for the wrap just shouldn’t have arisen. As my commentary below suggests, there is something very coincidental about the timings. Why did Coe decide to drop the wrap? Yes, the Government was asking for £20million savings as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but why did they choose the wrap when it was so obviously needed in their later view? They could have saved such a trifling some easily elsewhere, for a start in Paul Deighton’s annual bonuses.

No, the suspicion among many is that the wrap was a stitch-up, if you’ll pardon the pun. Dow had just paid the IOC a great deal of money and it wanted an involvement in 2012. So they got exclusive marketing rights to the stadium.

These, and more, are questions that politicians will continue to ask even if, as I suspect, the Indian Olympic Association, votes not to boycott and provides Coe with some much-needed tonic.

One of those politicians will be Ken Livingstone, who will join the campaign this week and make it an election issue against Boris Johnson, who hailed the Dow deal at the time of the Locog deal in August as “the final grand touch to the magnificent stadium”.

This will continue to run.

SURVIVORS of the Bhopal gas disaster are planning to burn symbols of the 2012 Olympics as a protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the stadium.

Thousands will march through the Indian city on Friday to mark the 27th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial accident in which thousands died.

They will burn symbols of Dow Chemical and of the 2012 Games amid fury that the US company has been awarded “exclusive marketing rights” by Lord Coe’s organising team.

Dow owns Union Carbide, which owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal, which campaigners say continues to pollute the city’s groundwater.

Although Dow only bought Union Carbide in 2001 and insists a “full and final” compensation deal for victims was agreed by the Indian government in 1989, there is outrage over the Olympics decision.

The Indian Olympic Association will vote on December 5 on whether to boycott the London Games.

Labour’s Ken Livingstone will join the campaign this week, heaping pressure on current London mayor Boris Johnson Johnson, who has proclaimed Dow’s wrap as “the final grand touch” to the stadium.

The Sunday Express was alone in reporting the controversy for three months after the deal was struck in August.

Britain’s Olympic bosses are “vigorously trying to find a solution”, sources said.

Privately, they feel Dow’s position puts Lord Coe’s organising committee in an “impossible position”.

They hope Dow will “gracefully withdraw”.

Organisers could also scrap the stadium’s fabric wrap, which Dow is paying for.

Another option would be for Dow to contribute up to £12.5million to a fund to help clean the pollution in Bhopal.

Dow denies any responsibility for the 1984 disaster.

 

COMMENTARY

UNTIL the deal with Dow, Lord Coe had played a public relations “blinder” so why did he risk it all with such an obvious own goal?

The answer probably lies in pressure exerted by the International Olympic Committee.

In July 2010, Dow became an IOC global partner, a privilege thought to cost up to £100million. For that it would have wanted some part in London 2012.

Four months later, the Government asked Lord Coe to come up with £20million of savings as part of the November spending review. Coe volunteered to drop the £7million wrap.

A month later, Coe revealed “commercial interest” in funding the wrap. In February this year, the wrap was put out to tender in return for “exclusive marketing rights”.

Six months later, Dow is announced as the winner.

Coe denies the IOC leaned on him, but campaigners ask whether he chose to drop the wrap knowing that Dow would pay for it to be reinstated.

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Annoyingly, I can’t get WordPress to align these two page images together (anyone out there who can help?), but here’s a piece on the Olympics, which I’ve written for today’s Sunday Express. I’ve also done a couple of other pieces on Dow, which I’ll blog about in another post.

FOUR years ago Prince Charles was handed a letter from a doughty heritage campaigner in London’s East End.

The campaigner, a retired geog­raphy teacher named Tom Ridge, was asking for support in his battle to save an architecturally respected Edwardian sweet factory that had the misfortune to be ensnared within boundaries of the emerging Olympic park.

King’s Yard, standing proudly by a canal and by then no longer home to Clarnico Creams but to artisans and furniture-makers, was a reminder of London’s past, a time when the Lower Lea Valley had powered the capital to industrial glory.

In his letter, Mr Ridge told the Prince that Lord Coe and his Olympic team wanted to flatten it. In its place, they wanted an eco-friendly, wood-chip burning biomass boiler that would provide “sustainable fuel” to the stadia and the athletes’ village.

Appalled, Mr Ridge had another idea: why not build the precious energy centre a little further away and save King’s Yard as a working industrial heritage centre? It would be a wonderful attraction for Olympic visitors, he said, juxtaposing the park’s modern buildings with London’s rich past.

Unusually, the Prince authorised his private secretary to say he was “passionate about heritage”, that he was “sympathetic” to Mr Ridge’s campaign and he “wished him every success”.

However, even that implied plea fell on deaf ears and the Olympic bulldozers flattened most of it. The demolition marked the last hope for those hoping the great 2012 project would include an element of what they called “soul”.

Last week Lord Moynihan, the boss of the British Olympic Association, warned that the promised sporting legacy for schools from the Games had been “squandered”.

As 2012 now looms, many wonder, especially those whose homes, allotments and football pitches have also been destroyed, whether Lord Coe will prove to be Britain’s most expensive con-artist. “What has Britain got for the bill of at least £10billion?” they ask.

Certainly many Olympic officials have become rich, corporate sponsors are delighted with their front-row ticket allocations and thousands of police officers are salivating at lucrative overtime payments. However, while the area has undoubtedly gained in many respects, much has been lost.

When Prince Charles’s sister, Princess Anne, stood in front of the International Olympic Committee in Singapore on July 6, 2005, she made reference to London’s Olympic bid document. That file had been prepared during the previous 24 months when “sustain­ability” had been the global buzzword. London 2012 was to be the “most sustainable Games ever” and “excellence without extravagance has become our mantra”, the bid boasted. Seven years on, the document, which said the budget for the Games would be £2.4billion, makes for fascinating reading.

It is a file of grand promises made and then kept at great expense, both in money and to people’s lives, and of others since broken – words that were clearly spun and never to be fulfilled.

In it, the Olympic visionaries boasted of a marathon route through the East End, thousands of jobs for locals, construction materials transported by canals, wind turbines, cheap hotels, a “London Olympic Institute” and even an ocean-going clipper known as the “Olympic Friend-ship” that would sail the world promoting Britain’s name.

None of this has really materialised.

A search for the “London Olympic Institute” on the London 2012 website returns no results; the Olympic Friend-ship, which had been due to sail with young volunteers and berth at the Cannes Film Festival, was ditched in 2007. Plans for the Olympic wind turbine, which was dubbed the Angel of Leyton, were dropped last year because there would not be enough wind and after £991,000 had been handed to energy giant EDF.

The promise that children born on December 20 (20/12) in 2004, the year the bid was submitted, would take part in the Opening Ceremony has also been broken. The organisers said 700 children were too many to accommodate. The historic East End, which had provided the 2005 delegation with its important “cultural diversity” backdrop, was also ditched this year when Lord Coe deemed the area too ugly and impractical for marathon athletes.

The bid document said three-star hotels in London averaged £74 a night, four-stars £136 and five-stars £251. A search through hotel-finder websites suggests prices are double those next year.

On jobs, Britain’s Olympic bosses have appeared uncomfortable. When questioned by a Commons select committee this month about the nationalities of workers on the Olympic site, 2012 chiefs admitted they had not been collating that information. Instead, Dennis Hone, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, said: “About 25 per cent came from the local host boroughs.” But those who have been following the issue for the past few years were not hoodwinked: living in dormitories and temporary workers’ lodgings in local host boroughs is not the same as locals having the jobs.

The bid document also sheds light on other Olympic myths. Games supporters now boast the Westfield shopping mall, which opened next to the park in September, was a direct consequence of the successful 2012 bid. However, the bid document reveals the opposite is the case.

Lord Coe used the fact that Westfield and the associated Stratford City housing development was already to be built as a major attraction for the IOC. In fact, the entire Lower Lea Valley had already been earmarked for regeneration.

There are some who believe the Olympics has actually ruined that planned regeneration. By fixing a date for the 2012 Games, reasonable objections and potentially more considerate planning decisions were over-ruled. The remediation of the site’s heavily contaminated soil would likely have taken more time and there, perhaps, would have been no need for the plastic sheet which is now buried just below the surface of the entire park.

King’s Yard might well have survived, as might Manor Garden Allotments, built in 1900 by Churchill’s friend Major Arthur Villiers. That tranquil and fertile oasis for families was demolished for the Olympics, as was the Eastway Cycle Circuit.

A co-operative housing development and university accommodation for 1,000 were also demolished. The site is now the basketball arena and athletes’ village.

Former resident Julian Cheyne, who campaigned against eviction, said the Olympic project was a “fantastic pack of lies” serving big corporations. He added: “The whole thing has been a disaster. They have lied about everything. The legacy they so often boasted about was going to be provided anyway. ”

A London 2012 spokesman said the allotments would return on two new sites, and added: “We are on track to deliver a spectacular Games and a meaningful legacy promised in the bid.”

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