In a month's time the Olympic torch will have found its way from Athens to east London ready for the opening ceremony of the 2012 games.
It’s a games under much scrutiny for many reasons; a hugely expensive games against a backdrop of a UK in recession; a games under unprecedented security with anti-aircraft weapons installed on the tops of apartment blocks and in parks; volunteers and athletes are given strict do’s and don’ts about what to publish on social media sites, and where corporate sponsors appear to be moulding the games to their own advantage.
Whilst it’s part of the course to have guidelines to protect the Olympic brand and control the astronomical costs of hosting such an event by encouraging corporate sponsorship, I can’t help but feel the committee have almost done a deal with the devil and sacrificed its soul. It’s quite normal for big brands to clamp down in mis-use of their logo and/or image assets, in this case the 5 Olympic rings, by only allowing its use to endorse products of official sponsors, but to ban local residents from making a quick buck at a sausage sizzle along the torch procession route because a hand-made sign carried the iconic 5 rings, seems a little excessive. Surely the objective of such a wide-reaching tour of the torch around the UK was to engage communities in the spirit of the games – not alienate them?
So who are the privileged brands deemed worthy enough to represent the Olympics’ core values to a global audience? Well, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Heineken & Cadbury Nature Valley…hmmm. An interesting choice when you consider the games showcase the crème de la crème of amateur sports – athletes are the peak of their game. I can’t imagine these athletes will be frequenting one of the four McDonald’s restaurants situated in the Olympic village. Nor will they be knocking back a few pints of Heineken as part of their training schedules. The games should surely promote a healthy lifestyle, inspire the stars of tomorrow. Yet spectators visiting the park will have no choice but to tuck into this artery-busting, sugar filled buffet under the sponsor exclusivity rules which means these will be the only branded products on sale. Ticketholders can’t take in their own drinks but will be able to take an empty bottle to be filled from the water stations around the park.
London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics was built around leaving a lasting legacy to younger generations across the world to boost participation numbers in sport. Will it succeed in this mission when Coca-Cola are handing out free commemorative bottles as part the commercial entourage following the torch-bearers around the UK? Or will it simply encourage a belief that all you need to be a record-breaker is a Big Mac and fries?
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