Protests are Coming to the Olympic Games

To be in London, two months before the 2012 Summer Olympics, is to feel a bit like a fish in an aquarium, with people constantly poking at the glass. Cameras adorn nearly every street corner and police vehicles are more prevalent than double-decker buses. It’s easy to understand why many are saying enough is enough.

On Saturday, July 28, protesters will be gathering in London to just say no to the priorities imposed by these most corporate of Olympic Games, and it’s hardly difficult to understand why.

Security forces are busily militarizing the urban terrain. Olympics security officials recently unboxed the military-grade Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), an eardrum-shattering weapon that has been war-zone tested in Iraq. There are plans to station surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of London apartment buildings. The Royal Navy’s biggest warship will sit along the Thames. Typhoon jets and Lynx helicopters will be ready for action. Scotland Yard has stockpiled more than 10,000 plastic bullets. Police are constructing mobile stations to facilitate swift bookings. And “dispersal zones” have been set up where police can freely ban anyone they deem to be engaging in antisocial behavior.  

None of this comes cheap. Londoners were told that the Olympics would cost £2.4 billion. Projections that include ballooning infrastructure costs are now looking at £24 billion, ten times the original bid’s estimate. They were told that the games would be funded with a “public-private partnership,” but the “private” end is now picking up less than 2 percent of the tab. In such an atmosphere, protest is inevitable, but the people coming out on July 28 are angry about more than militarization and debt. There are other issues drawing people into London’s privatized public square.

Olympics sponsorship has become a full-throttle, corporate cornucopia. London Games sponsors include icons of health and fair play like McDonald’s, British Petroleum and Dow Chemical. In the name of good health, McDonald’s is handing out “activity toys” for kids to play with after munching down their Happy Meals. BP is—no joke—an official “sustainability partner.” Dow Chemical’s prominent presence is a slap in the face to London’s large South Asian population, given the notorious gas disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 20,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more suffering in its wake. In 1999, Dow Chemical merged with Union Carbide, the US firm responsible for the Bhopal nightmare.

The UK Tar Sands Network has been active, helping carry out a gutsy intervention at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where, dressed in Shakespearean garb, activists stormed the stage and delivered a brilliant monologue—“To BP or Not to BP?”—and urged patrons to tear out BP’s sponsorship symbol from their program.

Behind this Bizzarro World where McDonald’s means health and BP stands for sustainability are the plutocrats and moral midgets of the International Olympic Committee.

More than a year after the Arab Spring, this is one dictatorial operation still chugging along. Originally a decaying assemblage of barons, dukes and counts, the IOC has now broadened its membership to include our modern royalty, the mega-wealthy. Having only allowed women as members in 1981, the IOC is the 1 percent of the 1 percent, a global cosmopolitan elite that drips with privilege.

To stage the games, host cities must submit to a laundry list of IOC demands, and London is no exception. It has set aside 250 miles of VIP lanes for exclusive use by members of the “Olympic Family,” including athletes, medics and corporate sponsors. London organizers are required to secure nearly 2,000 rooms for IOC bigwigs in the finest five-star hotels. To control commercial space in favor of the Olympics’ corporate donors, the “Technical Manual on Brand Protection” dictates, “candidate cities are required to obtain control of all billboard advertising, city transport advertising, airport advertising, etc., for the duration of the games and the month preceding the games to support the marketing program.”

As the games approach, and you begin to mark your favorite athletic contests on your calendar, remember that at noon on July 28 there will a different kind of event: when campaigners come together not to celebrate the breathtaking athleticism of the Olympics but to challenge the breathtaking audacity of Olympic elites.

9 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Living in London

Having lived and worked in London all my life (48 years) I have to say that this article is probably the most inaccurate load of nonsense you've ever written Dave.

And I say that as someone who normally agrees with a heck of a lot of what you say and write.

'Cameras on every corner?' Not where I live and work (working about 100 yards from the Bank of England, where you'd expect maximum levels of authority paranoia)

'Police vehicles more prevalent than double decker buses?' Not as far as I can see - unless those police vehicles are cunningly disguised as single decker buses...

The rest of the article makes some good points, but those horrible inaccuracies in the very first para put me off devoting much time to it.


Glad to see the comments section back up and running..

Zirin writes as if the 1972 Munich Olympics never happened

How can you write an entire article taking hyperbolic potshots at the security measures without even mentioning the the 07/07 bombings or the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Or perhaps you just don't take your writing very seriously. Just radical chic from the comfy environs of suburban DC.

Comrade Zirin didn't forget about Munich 1972

It just isn't worth mentioning because those colonialist Israelis deserved what they got. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, right, Zirin?

Non-combatant Jews being murdered on German soil, coupled with self-hating Jewish Leftists like Zirin = nothing new under the sun.

Zirin nails it

Open your eyes people. Zirin's point is that the Olympics are a ripoff from the public for the benefit of the ultra rich. How many of us could afford to attend such an Olympics? Who is it for? What does it say when you have to have missiles on the roof? All the security is to protect against public protests. And who profits from it all? The same "sustaining partners" and bloody-handed corporations. Sure the "games" need protection against Munich -style terrorists , but who protects us from corporations from their greed and corporate murder? (20,000 dead for just one example.

no more Olympics?

The knock on the whole IOC courtship just to host the games has been going for years. Since every few years the security detail, mass displacement, and public boondoggle has become nigh unsustainable, can we just cancel the whole fiasco?

That might sound ridiculous, but the Olympics are a human contrivance. They haven't been around forever, they've been suspended indefinitely before due to warfare. Since it's just a money drain for the city that hosts it anyway, why not just get rid of the event?

Atos - sponsors of London Paralympics

Thanks Dave.
I always love your stuff.

Just to say, the London Paralympics are being sponsored by Atos, a British Government private contractor employed to assess long-term sick and disabled patients to see wether they are fit for work or not. There is a national scandal at the medical abusive ethics they practice and the terror and trauma they are causing to the whole of the long-term patient community here in the UK who rely on welfare benefits to stay alive.

In a strange twist of history, Atos also owns the German company Siemens which provided the broadcasting and communications technology and services for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the same as Atos is providing for the London Olympics.

Anway, grass-roots disabled activist groups and patients are outraged and having been calling on disabled athletes to boycott the games. Protests are planned and there is talk of direct action. See DPAC Disabled People Against Cuts, and also Black Triangle Campiagn websites for more details.

Take care Dave and all the best.

Great Article

LRAD is perverse, and just in time since people have gotten wise to tear gas canister "injuries". Just a way to postpone the first fatalities in developed world protests. Sure they're deaf, but at least they're alive. No feck off!

BTW nice to see you still have the Troll Army following. Rock On Dudes!

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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