Three half decent articles recently popped up in the mainstream media last week each detailing the ‘unethical’ nature of some of the key Olympic sponsors. In the immediate firing line were McDonalds and Coca Cola for their obesity producing junk food, Dow Chemicals for its refusal to compensate for the victims of the Bhopal chemical explosion, mining giant, Rio Tinto, makers of Olympic medals, for its economic and environmental destruction in developing countries and of course, Adidas, makers of Team GB kits, for the slave labour conditions in their Asian sweat shops.

 

It’s good that these issues are being aired in some sections of the national media. But by highlighting these few easy targets it prompts its readers to imagine that there are responsible, ethical corporate sponsors out there. This is an obvious falsity that allows us to be seduced by Will Hutton’s and Ed Milliband’s notion of a ‘good capitalism’, a ‘responsible capitalism’, an ‘ethical capitalism’. It’s all a mirage. It doesn’t exist. Capitalism simply cannot operate other than the way it currently does. To do otherwise would invite bankruptcy at the hands of its global competitors. That is the nature of global capitalism and right now, despite some heroic resistance from the likes of Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia, it is the only game in town. Capitalism in the 21st century is, by definition, global monopoly capitalism, and those companies and corporations that don’t play by the rules will quickly go under. Ed Milliband and Co cannot wish that reality away. I’m damn sure Ed’s old man would agree with me on this one hundred percent.

 

Let’s have a closer look what these articles have to say. Richard Godwin, writing in The London Evening Standard 18/4/12 is particularly sharp in his journalism. He writes;

 

‘Of course, money always talks louder than principles in sport. Next week, Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One circus will be welcomed by the repulsive regime of Bahrain; in 2022, the FIFA World Cup will be held in the bling state of Qatar, where being gay is punishable by up to five years in prison.’

 

Points well made, but if you follow the logic of his words, where could we ethically hold a global sporting event? Certainly not in Russia (FIFA 2018) where the national wealth has been expropriated by a handful of gangster oligarchs supported by a compliant thuggish government. Certainly not in Brazil ( Fifa 2014 and Olympics 2016) where the urban slums are some of the worst on the planet and where the indigenous people are facing near extinction at the hands of the loggers and cattle farmers. And certainly not in Britain (Olympics 2012) where the City of London is one giant global tax haven and where successive British governments delight in selling weapons to every despotic regime on the planet. You can see the problem.

 

I’m sure Godwin can also see the problem and he astutely concludes; ‘It’s just that these Olympics were supposed to be the most ethical ever’. Well perhaps he foolishly believed the pre-bid hype, but anyone with a reasonable grasp of global capitalism will have known that for any country to host the modern day, bloated Olympics, it is unavoidable not to get into bed with the multinational corporations and every one of them, without exception, is up to their necks in graft, corruption and anti-democratic manoeuvrings. As Sporting Polemics never tires of reminding itself; ‘behind every great fortune is a great crime’.

 

The Independent 14/4/12 does itself proud both in its investigative journalism and its editorial on the question of an ‘ethical Games’. Kathy Marks, reporting from Indonesia has produced some damning research that should definitely be made into a leaflet and distributed outside every Olympic venue. The findings are as follows:

 

‘With just over 100 days to go before the Games begin, an investigation by The Independent has uncovered widespread violations of workers’ rights in Indonesia, where nine locally owned factories have been contracted to produce Olympic shoes and clothing for Adidas – the official sportswear partner of London 2012 and of the British team. While the German company – which unveiled its Stella McCartney designed kit for British athletes last month – hopes to make £100m from its Olympic lines, the mainly young, female factory employees work up to 65 hours per week for desperately low pay. They also endure verbal and physical abuse, are forced to work overtime, and are punished for not reaching production targets. Workers struggle to survive on pay as low as 34p an hour, skipping meals to save money, and sending their children away to be looked after by grandparents.’

 

The editorial in the same issue, as well as underlining the findings of their researchers, makes some more general points about the unethical nature of modern sport and its sponsors. It reads;

 

‘In fairness, Adidas is far from alone. Indeed, its activities are only the latest example of a much wider issue: the garment industry can feed the developed world’s appetite for cheap, throwaway fashions only by outsourcing manufacturing operations to low wage economies in the developing world. Despite the growing clamour over sweat-shops in recent years, improvements are slow. Neither are clothing retailers the only offenders. Apple, for example, has faced criticism over conditions in factories making its products, particularly in China.’

 

Having gone some way in exposing the real nature of globalised capitalism, the editorial tails off with a whimper and some mealy-mouthed platitudes about how the IOC needs to get back to the ‘original spirit of the Games’. Who are they kidding? The IOC, FIFA, Formula One; they are all too busy enriching themselves from the never-ending commercial circus that is modern day sport. They will be the last ones to clean up the mess.

 

So let us have a good look at our own country without our rose tinted glasses and see just how ethical Britain, and in particular London, turns out to be. The main sponsor of the London Games is not any one single transnational corporation but the British Government itself. Using our tax money, this government, in common with all previous post war governments, is knee deep in the arms trade, making shady deals with the likes of Saudi Arabia and any other regime that will take our merchandise. Remember, in Britain’s rapidly shrinking manufacturing sector, it is only BAe weapons production that can be considered a viable manufacturing hub. In short, we primarily deal in the manufacture of death and destruction – other peoples’ death and destruction of course – rarely our own. Not much ethical about that.

 

Next there are the big British pharmaceutical companies like Glaxo-Smith Klein. What do they actually produce? Principally, anti-depressants, pain killers and a whole array of drugs that have dubious medical benefits and in many cases simply addict the population to drugs that mask real or imagined problems. (And who wouldn’t be depressed living in a bling filled, celebrity obsessed, recession plagued society.)  If anyone can present a convincing argument about the ethical dimensions of the big drug companies I will be very surprised.

 

Then there are the food, drink and tobacco giants. What do they offer British society? Obesity inducing highly processed food, saturated in salt, fats and sugars, and in the case of big tobacco, cancerous forming nicotine. That successive governments have repeatedly failed to tackle these industries head on is a crime in itself. In the year of the London Olympics half the nation is hooked on life threatening junk food which governments steadfastly refuse to regulate, yet who does the IOC and their compliant governments choose to sponsor their sporting circuses – McDonalds and Coca Cola. Now where is the ethics in that?       

 

Finally we have the City of London itself which turns out to be one giant tax haven where much of the world’s dirty money is laundered via offshore bank accounts or skyscraper type speculative developments, none of which goes one iota into solving the chronic housing shortage in the capital. Meanwhile over a million young people in Britain are on the scrape heap unable to find useful employment or to afford the ever escalating university fees.

 

Global capitalism has a debilitating effect on both developing and developed nations with a common feature in both – an ever widening gap between the mega rich and the growing ranks of the impoverished.  And it’s no surprise where that obscenely rich strata of casino capitalists can be found amusing themselves – in the extravagant sporting arenas that are springing up relentlessly around the globe. One never-ending party.  And as soon as they get bored with London they will troop off to Rio to do it all over again. Meanwhile in the sweatshops of Asia, the slums of Rio and the back streets of London, Athens and Madrid it’s the same old story; blighted lives lived in the shadow of unregulated global capitalism. Not an ounce of ethics to be found.

 

When you look even more closely at the real nature of London you see a city dominated by unregulated multinational corporations to whom politicians are forced to go begging for even a few crumbs. The Qatari Shard is a perfect symbol of what London has become – a shard of corporate narcissism piercing through the community heart of London itself. Corporate skyscrapers and giant impersonal shopping malls are the order of the day, but try getting a community centre built and you can whistle till the next millennium. And all the corporations are in conscious cahoots with each other stuffing us with poisons and then selling us fake remedies. Just pause for a moment to examine the absurdity of it all.

 

First we are seduced by the corporate advertising industry to buy our food and drinks from the food conglomerates and they repay us by making us fat, lazy and ill. We are then seduced by the rapidly expanding diet industry, which it transpires are owned by those very same food conglomerates, to make us thin; seduced by the sport and leisure industry to make us fit, seduced and by the pharmaceutical corporations to make us well. None of this works of course because we are still being force-fed by the very same corporations that made us sick in the first place. We feel old and depressed. But worry not – we have the beauty industry to make us feel eternally young and the big pharmaceuticals to addict us to anti-depressants. And to compliment the whole process we have the global sports and entertainment industries to provide us with a never-ending celebrity road show, which we are encouraged to enjoy with copious quantities of cheap booze. The cycle is complete. It is a vicious cycle with clear winners and losers. No surprises as to who are in the winning camp and expect not one ounce of ethical consideration from any of these corporations. Just profit driven capitalism – pure and simple. And global sport is right in the thick of it.

 

Big sport sold its soul long ago, so we should not pretend that a little tinkering here or there will magically conjure up an ethical Olympics. That moment, if it ever really existed, has long passed. What is to be done? Try to give the whole corporate circus a decisive boycott, though with wall to wall, 24/7 promotions, that is easier said than done. As each day passes the Olympic publicity machine will become ever more shrill, ever more ubiquitous. The trick will surely be to get away as far as possible from the corporate machine. A hiking holiday in the highlands of Scotland or the Welsh mountains might be the thing to do. Either that, or join the Occupy London Movement which is sure to make its presence felt on the streets of London. And don’t be surprised if we see another round of burning and looting from London’s alienated and disconnected youth.  As much as I value a peaceful capital, who could really blame them?  

 

End JPK Copyright 22/4/12

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