A sinister shadow over the Olympic Torch
There must have been a meeting, when they decided Mr Mittal would carry the Olympic Torch. Perhaps it went a little like this: “On the one hand, his company is accused of stealing lands in India; complicity with fraud in Liberia; actively supports the denial of Bosnian genocide and is about the build the largest industrial development in the Arctic Circle.”[[i]] Another person may add, “And he is the richest business man in Britain, despite his company losing money.”[[ii]] A further Olympic planner sighs, before saying, “Well, his company did finance the tower and will hopefully enjoy the tax breaks this sponsorship entails. Furthermore, benefiting corporate elites is what London 2012 is all about.” Of course, this may not be exactly how the conversation went. However, Mr Mittal was given approval to carry the torch through Chelsea and Kensington on the 26th July.
The corporatisation of the Olympics has fuelled it into a grand political spectacle, used to distract people’s attention from austerity and privatisation. The Olympic branding asserts some sort of utopian vision: a celebration of humanity. However, scratch below its commercialised veneer and numerous sinister stories appear, with disastrous and destructive consequences to the world and humanity.
Due to the corporate practices of ArcelorMittal, the Bread and Circuses Collective wrote an open letter to Mr Mittal, before he carried the torch. It called on him to:
Stop stealing people’s land in India [[iii]]
Respect the victims of genocide in Republika Srpska [[iv]]
End plans to build the largest industrial works in the Arctic [[v]]
Work to reduce corruption in Liberia [[vi]]
We have not yet heard back.
Although some truly courageous people have been chosen to carrying the torch, it also deserves questioning. Does it need to follow a long train of advertisements? Does it need security that attack young children for straying to near? Does it deserve to be revered as an event outside of politics? More broadly, why and how have these sorts of events fostered a culture of being unquestionable?
The Bread and Circuses collective took its name from a phrase coined during the Roman Empire; it meant that the masses could be distracted from the inequalities of the ruling classes to maintain this situation, by watching circuses and receiving free bread. Today we are facing some of the biggest levels of inequalities in our history. Or more accurately, we are not fully facing these problems. Circus 2012 is drawing our attention from these crises – an event which is mainly paid for by taxpayers.[[vii]] And unless you’re skipping supermarkets, there is no free bread either.
Circuses 2012, I mean London 2012, is in town; it coincides with a crisis of capitalism, caused by bankers and paid for by the masses. The government is haemorrhaging money out of public services to pay to the bankers or to make up for lost corporate evaded tax.[[viii]]
Games sponsor Lloyds TSB is a key example. It invested in toxic loans blamed for causing the crisis. We bailed them out, with other failed banks, which cost Britain over £124 billion.[[ix]] This is the almost twice the amount the coalition government planned to cut to public services when it came into office: it’s original austerity measures were set at £83 billion over four years.[[x]] However, these cuts are being increased as it has led us into a double dip recession, defined by some economists as a depression.[[xi]] Lloyds TSB is also under investigation as part of the Libor Scandal – maybe the worst scandal to emerge about international banking. [[xii]] Furthermore, as shareholders, we have allowed them to use our money to let them sponsor the Olympics. This seems to validate the adage, “With a gun you can rob a bank: with a bank you can rob the world.”
The Olympic circus will foster a general sense of euphoria, national pride and Royal Britannia spirit. This will take media and public attention away from the injustices and inequalities of the elites dominating the masses and the crimes committed by corporations. Worst still, in this distraction there are some of the very elites, centre stage carrying the torch or branding the event, so close to the distraction itself that their reputations may be enhanced.
The organisers of the Olympics talk of its legacy, whilst locals are already talking about aftermath.[[xiii]] One positive political glimmer of light, to come out of games, may be that it focuses more attention onto the most guilty corporations and destructive impacts on East London. For the corporations, their decision to sponsor the Games will hopefully backfire, and hopefully their reputations are tarred rather than “greenwashed”. For local issues, hopefully the documentation of the Games’ impact on East London will help the people in Rio de Janeiro not suffer a similar assault by the Brazilian elites. Also, the stronger community based links built in London against Circus 2012 will remain, creating more organised resistance to future assaults by corporate interests to expand the Financial Service Industry eastwards. This would be a fantastic people led legacy that London 2012 could leave for prosperity.
[iii]- Editorial, Jharkhand tribal body to oppose ArcelorMittal project, The India Times: Economic Times, July 2012, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-07-05/news/32551552_1_arcelormittal-project-jharkhand-project-l-n-mittal
[iv]- Denis Dzidic, London’s Olympic Tower Casts “Shadow of Shame”, Balkan Insight, July 2012 http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/london-s-olympic-tower-casts-shadow-of-shame/
[v]- Terry Macalister, Britain’s richest man to build giant Arctic iron ore mine, The Guardian, July 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/04/lakshmi-mittal-arctic-iron-ore
[vi]- Silas Siakor, Darek Urbaniak, Paul de Clerck, Working for Development? ArcelorMittal’s mining operation in Liberia, Friends of the Earth, June 2010, http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/publications/FoEE_Working_for_development_0610.pdf
[vii]- Data Blog, London Olympics 2012: where does the money come from – and where’s it being spent? The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/datablog/2012/jul/26/london-2012-olympics-money?newsfeed=true
[viii]- Editorial, Cameron sees no end to UK austerity –report, Reuters, July 2012, http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/19/britain-cameron-idINL6E8IJ01520120719
Mark Jenner, Tax avoidance costs UK economy £69.9 billion a year, The Newstatesman, November 2011 http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/11/tax-avoidance-justice-network
[ix]- Maintaining the financial stability of UK banks: Update on the support schemes, The National Audit Office, December 2010, http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1011/support_for_banks.aspx
[xi]- Sarah O’Connor and Norma Cohen, UK economy smaller than when Cameron took office, Financial Times, July 2012 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4d4586da-d634-11e1-ba60-00144feabdc0.html#axzz21kRYtAuT
[xii]- Matt Scuffham and Steve Slater, Lloyds pulled deeper into Libor probe, Reuters, July 2012 http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/07/26/uk-lloyds-results-idUKBRE86P07U20120726