Has London Set a Dirty Standard for Future Olympics?

Will the 2012 Olympics in London be rated as one of the most unethical events in recent times.

The Victims of The Bhopal Gas Disaster Hold a

Victims of the Bhopal Gas Disaster

In January 2012, the government of India was threatening to boycott all official ceremonies at the London Olympics.  However, six months down the line, India ended up sending the largest contingent of athletes to an Olympics event and happily participated in all the ceremonies.  Why was India threatening to boycott and why did it change its mind? It was boycotting the games because one of the main sponsors of the London games is Dow Chemical, a U.S. company responsible for one of the worst industrial disasters in India’s history.

One night, in 1984, the company’s industrial plant leaked 40 tonnes of poisonous gas into the city of Bhopal in central India.  The reason this story is personal for me is because till a year before the incident, I as a girl, had lived with my family in the adjoining town.

Over half a million people were affected by this toxic gas and 200,000 of those were children under the age of 15 years. 3500 people were killed on exposure, and another 15000 died later from exposure related injuries and diseases.  The total death toll is estimated to be as high as 25000 people. A government report in 2006 confirmed 558,125 injuries from the gas leak, 38,478 partial injuries, and 3,900 sever and permanently disabling diseases. About 100-200,000 of these injuries and health effects include partial blindness, lung collapses, and immune, neurological, and reproductive disorders. The rate of still births increased 300%.  And 25 years on, since the leak, children continue to be born with genetic defects.

To avoid legal liabilities for this monstrous disaster, Union Carbide strategically changed its name to Dow by selling out, and from there on has shamelessly claimed it is in no way responsible for whatever happened to the victims of Bhopal.

In January 2012, Meredith Alexander as commissioner for a body monitoring the London Olympics, resigned in protest of Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics, saying “This is one of the worst abuses of human rights in my generation and I could not just stand idly by…Victims families will be hurt by this decision and I feel I have to stand up and be counted on this.”

Other then Meredith Alexander this did not seem to hurt anyone’s conscience very much.  The Indian government, which incidentally during the accident was headed by the Congress party, the current party in power, had actually helped the Chairman of the Union Carbide company safely flee to the U.S. from India on a government plane after the incident.  Hence, the feeble sound of protest from the Indian government, 6 months ago, was simply tokenism.  It meant nothing! In fact India has sent one of the biggest contingents ever to the London Olympics.  Even the Indian Prime Minister had nothing to say when Britain’s P.M. David Cameron heartily supported Dow saying they are a “reputable” firm, and the Olympics is not about politics.

Well, certainly the Olympics is not about politics, it is about money.  After all, Dow is sponsoring a $7 million dollar fabric wrap for the London Olympic stadium!! Who has that kind of money to spend just on fabric eh?

But still, India is 1/5 of the human population.  Could the U.K. afford to lose out on that chunk of its viewership, and more from a possible dominos effect?  Certainly not, after all the billions of dollars spent on this grand event!  Just the opening ceremony costs a whopping $42.4 million!

How could one ensure that Indians tuned in to see the games, in the millions, and were not talked into behaving conscientiously like Dow has complained, that ngos and activists encourage people to do? Enhance the Indian effect at the Olympics?  What a brilliant idea! Indians love that! Indians always feel a big elevation in self-esteem to be given any kind of seemingly “special” attention by the big powers of the world.

Mr. Bachchan as I imagine him! It’s hard to miss the hyped-up India at the London Olympics.  India’s biggest star, Bollywood actor, Amitabh Bacchan, who Indians would literally die for, carried the Olympic torch,.  As did Laxmi Mittal, the biggest Indian business tycoon in London. India’s most famous Oscar winning musician, A.R. Rahmann has composed the music, with a noticeably Indian beat, for the opening ceremony. And we hear that the director of the ceremony is Danny Boyle of the “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, a film that in the west is synonymous with fairy-tales about the wretched inhabitants of India’s million slums.

For sure, a large chunk of India’s one billion plus population was watching when the great Amitabh Bachchan carried the Olympic flames, for they were talking about it excitedly on the streets, buses and on the internet.

Sadly, no one in India was watching the “special Olympics” that had been organized in Bhopal, at the same time that Bachchan was carrying the torch.  The event was in protest of Dow’s inclusion in the Olympics, and people who have become disabled from the gas leak participated in this ‘special’ Olympic.  Not a single Indian government officer even showed up at this event.

I sort of imagined that Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, since he almost has a Gandhi-like following in India, would do what the two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos did at the 1968 Mexican Olympic, to protest the racial apartheid in their country and show solidarity with fellow Black-Americans. They wore black gloves and raised their fists in the power salute, on the victory stand when they received their medals.  I thought maybe Mr. Big B would raise a flag or something saying “Bhopal, this is only for you!”  Or better still, “I am Bhopal!” particularly since his wife grew up in Bhopal! This city must have some sort of a personal connection for him surely? I didn’t watch, because I knew he never would!!

Perhaps in the end we are all in it for money, for our own enjoyment and our fantasies, however false and dishonest they are Like CNN’s report on Danny Boyle’s role in the Olympics which says “And it is the uplifting, life-affirming mood of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that the director aims to bring to the opening ceremony, because…Boyle insists he remains positive, an optimist.”  Of course, Mr. Boyle, the symbolic torch! The beacon! The champion of the third-world, under-dogs! South Africa was banned from the Olympics for almost 25 years, because of its apartheid government.  Perhaps, this is a major shift in the core values of what will represent in the future.

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3 Comments

  1. I do know that the Indian Government was planning to “boycott the Olympics”. A move that would have harmed Indian Sport far more than the country’s shocking treatment of it’s own athletes (except Cricket!).

    Bhopal was a travesty. It was an avoidable disaster. It was a combination of three things that formed a perfect storm.

    1. Union Carbide’s frankly stupid safety system added to which it’s giant storage facility for a powerful toxin that had no failsafes and no redundancy.

    2. The fact remains that this was an obvious problem and a disaster waiting to happen and could only have occurred in a country which had a shocking lack of health and safety laws. India STILL has a shocking lack of health and safety laws and awareness.

    3. Corruption. Even if India had rules how much money do you bet that someone was paid to look the other way?

    Now here is the problem I have with this. DOW are a massive company and all that but DOW didn’t own Union Carbide in the 1980s. Union Carbide was it’s own company. DOW purchased Union Carbide in 2001.

    So DOW actually have no responsibility for the Union Carbide disaster. In the same way that buying a car from someone that was involved in a hit and run doesn’t mean you have to go to jail for it.

    Yes, everyone wants justice and no one likes DOW but frankly? In this case they are innocent. Union Carbide got off scott free because they liquidated. I don’t think the clean up of the site will ever occur since DOW aren’t responsible for it unless DOW decided to act out of goodwill.

    Reply
    • Rita Banerji

       /  July 30, 2012

      It’s not stupidity. It’s criminality. You have to read the reports of how many violations Union Carbide had, which they ignored in India, but in the U.K. or U.S. they wouldn’t dare. Yes, the govt. of India is corrupt. But each company is INDIVIDUALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT IT DOES!!1 The government of India was obviously involved because they gave the CEO a safe passage out of India quickly on a government plane!!! Compare that to what Obama did to British Petroleum when 10 Americans got killed. The CEO was brought to the U.S. forced to grovel and apologize to the whole nation on American T.V. and set up a trillion dollar fund for the victims and the clean up. It is nonsensical to compare buying a company which has a huge criminal case pending against it with buying a car. Dow knew what Union Carbide was about — but this was a legal loophole they used — and that’s something everyone knows. THIS WAS THE THIRD CRIMINAL MOVE ON THEIR PART TO WHICH DOW WAS PARTY! THE FIRST WAS THE KILLING OF PEOPLE. THE SECOND WAS FLEEING THE SCENE OF CRIME. I mean look at the other comments in that article by people who’ve dealt with Dow in other countries!!!

      Reply

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