Former London Mayor & IOC Enter into Row Over Dow London 2012 Sponsorship

November 28, 2011

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and former London Mayor Ken Livingston have waded into the argument over the prospect of India boycotting the London Olympic Games over Dow Chemical’s sponsorship.

The IOC was responding to a planned vote by the Indian Olympic Association next month on whether to boycott the 2012 games because of Dow’s links to the 1984 Bhopal disaster, which killed at least 8,000 people.

London organisers have come under intensive lobbying from activists and politicians in the UK and India, who say Dow’s sponsorship and its legal battles with the Indian government and families affected by the disaster threaten the reputation of the Olympics.

The company won a ­tender in August to supply a £7m decorative “wrap” for London’s Olympic stadium. This sparked opposition from groups such as Amnesty International, because Dow owns Union Carbide, whose Indian subsidiary was responsible for the Bhopal gas leak.

Livingstone, who will stand again next year to be London mayor against Boris Johnson, believes continuing the Dow sponsorship will undermine the  London 2012 games.

Livingstone said Dow had a “moral responsibility” to deal with residual contamination in the area. He said: “Dealing with industrial contamination was the first necessary task to transform the Olympic Park from a derelict polluted wasteland into the largest urban park in Europe. It would undermine London 2012 to take money from a sponsor that refused to clean up its own subsidiary’s mess.”

He said the issue could “go as far as creating a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Games” and claimed that given that the venues had come in under budget questioned whether there was a need to “accept £7m from Dow Chemical so that they can rehabilitate themselves and destroy London’s reputation in the process”.

The former mayor said: “Our objective should be an Olympics that is good for London, not a them-and-us Games. The soul of the London Games is worth much more than 0.08% of its budget. It would be far better to do this than to allow Dow Chemicals to exploit an opportunity that has been paid for by people in London and across the whole country.”

Livingstone called on organisers to “admit they had made a mistake” and, if they could not find replacement sponsors, to fund the wrap from unspent contingency funds.

Tessa Jowell, shadow Olympics minister for the opposition Labour party, said: “It’s better that we have an unwrapped stadium, rather than a stadium wrapped in the continuing controversy of Dow Chemical’s sponsorship.”

The IOC said it would “oppose a boycott, as ultimately the only people hurt by actions like these would be the athletes themselves”.

The London Organising Committee (Locog) has tried to play down the issue. Lord Coe, chairman, told the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee last week: “We have looked at this, and we are satisfied that Dow were not the owners or the operators or were involved with that plant at the time of the disaster.”Dow won a competitive tender and met Locog’s environmental, social and ethical values “by a distance”.

On Friday, Locog said: “We have had absolutely no indication from [India’s national Olympic body] that there are any plans or discussions to boycott London 2012.”

But Barry Gardiner, a London MP leading the UK-based campaign against Dow’s wrap sponsorship, said: “I can’t understand the level of inaction from Locog on this.” He said the committee could “still end the partnership [with Dow] and ensure the damage is minimised”.

On Thursday Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh province, wrote to the Indian government urging a boycott. “The funds intended for sponsoring the Olympics would be far better spent in alleviating the misery suffered by the people of Bhopal,” he said.

Dow Chemical has said: “Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant and the legal claims surrounding the incident were resolved in 1989, long before Dow acquired Union Carbide, we – along with the rest of industry – have learnt from this tragic event, and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements to ensure that such incidents never happen again.”