As I wrote previously, the Olympics can be a great cause for celebration of personal achievement my people striving to achieve the very best in their chosen sport or athletic event. As an advocate of capitalism, I’m not a supporter of the anti-capitalist protestors objecting to specific sponsors at the games.
The patronising and precious attitude of protestors that having sponsors like Coca Cola and McDonalds means people will associate those brands with health living is insulting the intelligence of spectators and those at home watching the games. There wont be ads of Gold Medal winning athletes saying they did it drinking coke or eating McDonalds, but even if there were, then so be it. The do-gooding health bullies who want to restrict free speech because they think they can regulate, tax and berate everyone into eating and drinking as they want should just shut up. The simple response to sponsors whose products you don’t like is to not buy them or organise a boycott. Funnily enough had the Olympics actually come within budget as originally proposed by the government when it bid for the games, then it may be that sponsorship and ticket sales would have meant it broke even. The original budget being £2.4 billion excluding the external costs to related agencies, such as the Police. Now it is £9.3 billion plus those costs at around £2 billion, it’s easy to be cynical about the games from an economic perspective, but also desperate to maximise sponsorship to cover the costs.
You’d think that from my point of view, whatever it takes to get sponsorship is good. Well no. There is nothing wrong with granting the rights to be official sponsors, to use the logos and slogans trademarked for the Olympics. This, of course, is like any other event and any other corporate sponsorship role. Sponsors pay for certain exclusivity related to that which those organising the event have the right to sell. However, it goes a lot further than that here.
For a start, Lord (Sebastian) Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has said that ticket holders to events wearing items of clothing carrying the brands of competitors to the sponsors could be prohibited from entering the events. He said it was “probably not” ok to wear a Pepsi T-shirt (Coca Cola is the competing sponsor), but “ok” to wear Nike trainers (Adidas is the competing sponsor). There has been some backtracking on that somewhat (only wanting to prohibit large groups engaging in “ambush marketing”), and frankly if all of that had been made clear when tickets were sold, then it would be fine. Yet it’s more insidious than this.
You shouldn’t need to pass laws to host an event, but the Blair Government passed legislation, which explicitly prohibits unauthorised use of certain words. Typically, protection of sponsorship is about protecting trademarks and logos that you have registered or fraudulently passing yourself off as officially endorsed by an event. Existing laws are quite capable of doing that, but the Blair/Brown and Cameron Governments had been lobbied by the International Olympic Committee and sponsors to do more. So there are now officially banned words and phrases in relation to trade:
“Using the words Games, Twenty-Twelve, 2012, or Two Thousand and Twelve, in conjunction with one of these words - London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver or bronze - is also banned.”
You can have a brief laugh at how this demonstrates that the quasi-authoritarian nanny-state approach to British politics, embraced by the Labour Party is now mainstream and uncontroversial among major parties. It is also illegal to take photos of the Olympics rings in public places to be used in publicity. This includes the taxpayer funded quarter million pound rings on Tower Bridge.
To those who think the British constitutional monarchy system is a great guarantor of freedom, surely this shows it up for the emptiness that it is. The government has restricted free speech around the Olympics. Why? Well to protect the official sponsors, because they can’t possibly have a small local café selling muffins under a sign not using the logo saying “Olympic Muffins”. Conversely, no airline other than British Airways can advertise "fly to London for the Olympics", which is patently absurd.
This overbearing, corporatist nastiness is exactly the sort of bullying that anti-capitalist protestors rightfully condemn. It’s not free market capitalism to pass laws so that sponsors don’t just register trademarks, but prohibit the use of general phrases and descriptions. So on that I’m with the protestors.
How can any politician in the House of Commons hold his or her head up high and say it’s ok to pass laws restricting public usage of words that are NOT brands. I can’t say “Summer 2012” without it being seen as some insidious attempt to undermine the sponsorship of the Olympics. To his credit, Mayor Boris Johnson has called overzealous policing of sponsorship as “insanity”, which should hopefully take the sting off the tail of cops who see new laws as a chance to grab some new criminals. Hopefully it means that some local businesses who have contributed in taxes for this grand event wont face prosecution for using words from common usage. He has pointed out the suburb of west London called Olympia and how absurd it should be if businesses around there with that name might be forced to change. Sponsors who use such laws to beat up on smaller businesses who are not using their logos and who are not claiming to be official sponsors should themselves face the opprobrium of the public. It’s not your language, taxpayers are the biggest sponsors of these Olympics. Just because you have convinced a bunch of lilly-livered politicians and gutless bureaucrats to pass laws to restrict free speech, doesn’t mean it is right. For if the Olympics has a spell of petty bullying from bureaucrats, Police and lawyers from sponsors forcing people to not use verboten words, then it deserves to be accompanied by moaning. Britain should no more be beholden to rampant corporatism, than it should be to rampant statism.
Ironically, there has been one freedom granted - Sunday opening hours, which are currently heavily restricted for shops over a certain size, have been abolished for the period of the Games. However, Britain doesn't have a Government sufficiently committed to economic growth to allow this to continue, as City AM's Allister Heath bemoans.