Olympic Rebels Plot Protests With 100 Days to London Games

Protest Groups Mobilize With 100 Days to Olympic Games
Protesters against Dow Chemical's sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic Games demonstrate outside the venue of the final International Olympic Committee press conference in London. Photographer: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

A hundred days before the London Olympics, organizers of sport’s biggest event are stepping up preparations and publicity. So are groups that want to use the games as a stage for protest.

The 16 days of competition will draw athletes from more than 200 nations as well as protesters ranging from local residents to international activists campaigning against sponsors such as Dow Chemical Co., Coca-Cola Co. and BP Plc.

“This is the moment to seize,” Colin Toogood, who has been raising funds for a campaign against Dow, said in an interview. “It’s going to start ramping up.”

London beat Paris, New York and Moscow to host the games, which start July 27. The U.K. government tripled its original budget to 9.3 billion pounds ($14.8 billion) after failing to get companies to finance and develop the main site in east London. The security budget doubled to 553 million pounds last year as a review found that an original estimate of 10,000 guards was short by nearly 14,000 people.

“People will use the Olympics as an excuse to very effectively get their point across,” Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brandRapport, said in an interview. “Any sort of baggage at all where they could be criticized, something like this will attract that sort of unwanted attention. The Olympics is just so big now.”

Planning Meetings

Toogood was among more than 40 campaigners at a meeting held last weekend near London’s financial district by a group calling itself the Counter Olympics Network. They were joined by U.S. opponents of BP, the oil producer that paid to be the official “sustainability” partner.

The Gulf Coast Fund, which supports victims of natural disasters and environmental accidents in the southern U.S., criticized the British oil company’s involvement after a 2010 accident in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and pumped oil into the water for 87 days. A spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on the actions of protest groups.

“BP as the sustainability sponsor is utterly ridiculous,” Derrick C. Evans, an adviser to the Gulf Coast Fund, said in an interview in London after traveling from Mississippi. “It’s a horrible mistake that you would have think had been written up by a satirist to lampoon either BP or London and the U.K. because it makes no sense.”

Activists will wear Olympic-themed gas masks at Rio Tinto Plc’s annual general meeting tomorrow in the British capital, the London Mining Network said by e-mail. They’re protesting air pollution at Bingham Canyon, Utah, where most of the Olympic medals are being produced.

Bhopal Deaths

Dow’s 10-year agreement with the International Olympic Committee has been targeted because the Midland, Michigan-based company bought Union Carbide Corp.

The purchase came 16 years after a leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, central India, killed more than 3,800 people, according to Bhopal.com, a website set up by the company. A study by Amnesty International, a human-rights group, showed 7,000 perished within days and another 15,000 died later from exposure to methyl isocyanate gas.

At Amnesty International’s U.K. headquarters on April 16, activists introduced “Greenwash Gold 2012 Campaign” to find, which of Dow, BP and Rio Tinto Plc had damaged the environment the most.

Dow acquired Union Carbide in 2001, about 10 years after the Indian Supreme Court approved a $470 million settlement paid by Union Carbide and Union Carbide India.

Protest Plans

The opposition is “beyond belief” Dow Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said in a Feb. 28 interview. Union paid a settlement and protestors are targeting Dow as it’s a “healthy company with deep pockets,” he said. They should talk to the Indian government, Liveris said.

London’s organizing committee has raised more than 700 million pounds from sponsors, which it says are crucial to funding the games. The organization didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

At their meeting, activists sat in a circle and brainstormed how their protests could hurt the games and sponsors. They didn’t clap for fear of interrupting someone and instead used sign language to show their approval of an idea before pausing for a lunch of baguette and soup.

Suggestions included occupying buildings, halting construction and blocking lanes designated for Olympic officials, as well as hacking websites and carrying out subversive poster and advertising campaigns. One activist was selling T-shirts showing five handcuffs interlinked like the Olympic rings logo.

‘Too Radical’

The group included students, local residents, activists and Elizabeth Hogg, an 89-year-old Canadian who was handing over the “Poverty Olympic Torch” from Vancouver, which hosted the 2010 winter games, to London.

“I’m passing it on to younger people with bright ideas,” Hogg said in an interview. “I hope they’re not too confrontational. Being too radical can get people’s backs up.”

Nine thousand police officers will be deployed during the peak of the Olympics and 20,000 security staff will be needed overall, double the original estimate. Additional numbers will come from the private security sector, the military and volunteers.

‘Heavy Handed Policing’

The U.K. criticized previous Olympic host China for the way it dealt with protestors and “would look very hypocritical” if it tried to suppress legitimate protests, said Margaret Gilmore, a senior researcher in security at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

“But if they become violent they are going to have to come down on them. It may be that we have to see some heavy-handed policing if those demonstrations and protests get out of hand,” she said. “They cannot be allowed to when you have such large numbers of sporting spectators moving around.”

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