POSTED: November 29th 2011

JOHN GOODBODY: The spectre of boycotts can always return to the Olympic Games

This map from wikimedia offers a good view of boycotts from 1976 to 1980
This map from wikimedia offers a good view of boycotts from 1976 to 1980

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: Boycotts spoilt the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympics and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must have thought they were a problem in the past, given that the political world has changed so dramatically. However, there is a flurry of mild concern for the London Games from the unlikely source of India.

About 21 former Indian Olympians are angry that the $11 million curtain-style wrap round the Olympic Stadium in London has been sponsored by Dow, the ultimate owner of the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, which killed more than 20,000 people with hundreds of thousands more still suffering from the effects of chemical-related injuries. They believe the money for the London Games should have been given to the survivors of the world’s worst industrial accident.

The demands have been given further credibility by the fact that Tessa Jowell, who remains on the all-powerful Olympic Board for London 2012 as former Olympics Minister, has called on Sebastian Coe, another member of the Board and chairman of the organising committee,  to cancel the deal before a meeting of the Indian Olympic Association. She is going to India this week on an unrelated project.

Hugh Robertson, another member of the Board and the current Olympics Minister, points out:”I fully realise that this is a sensitive subject parti cularly for those affected by the Bhopal disaster. But Dow did not take over Union Carbide until a decade afterwards. “ Union Carbide, who owned the Bhopal plant, paid $470 million in compensation for the victims before the company was taken over by Dow.

It is also understood that many of Dow’s chemicals have been used in the cladding at the Westfield Shopping Centre at the entrance of Olympic Park as well as in the floor of the Excel Centre, where several sports will be staged during the Games.

Although India was only 50th in the 2008 Olympic medal table, with one gold and two bronze medals, it has traditional links with Britain and Government sources in London say there is no appetite for a “prolonged spat” with an important trading partner.

Lord Coe has said that he has looked very closely at the history of Dow in India, declaring:”I am satisfied that the ownership, operation and involvement either at the time of the disaster or at the final settlement was not the responsibility of Dow.”The American Chemicals giant say that the $470 million, paid by Union Carbide in 1991 for the disaster victims, was final.

The acting President of the Indian Olympic Association, Vijay Kumar  Malhotra, has insisted that there is no planned boycott of the Games , although he did add:”Some people have raised a concern about the sponsorship issue and we will discuss that, along with other issues. Some former Olympians are upset with the sponsorship deal and would like them”(London 2012)”to reconsider it.”

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · London 2012 · IOC · boycott

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