Author Article by Neil Faulkner: Olympic green-wash

BP is one of the principle sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics, much to the ire of environmental campaigners

BP is one of the principle sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics, much to the ire of environmental campaigners

Neil Faulkner is the author of A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics, to be published soon by Yale University Press. In this regular blog, he comments on the London 2012 Olympics in the light of the wisdom (or lack of it) of the ancients.

Article by Neil Faulkner

Dow Chemicals’ sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics has hit the headlines recently because it is the owner of Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India.

The toxic gas leak is estimated to have killed 15,000 and damaged the health of 100,000 more. The area around the plant is still contaminated. A recent water-sample from a hand-pump registered 1,000 times above the safe level of carbon tetrachloride.

So why is Dow Chemicals an Olympic sponsor? One could ask the same of many others. BP is – wait for it – ‘the Official Oil and Gas Partner’.

During the Games, BP will be doing what it does best: heating up the planet by pumping carbon into the atmosphere. It will do this by providing fuel for 5,000 official vehicles. That’s FIVE THOUSAND. All helping to make London 2012 ‘the greenest Games ever’.

BP, like Dow, has form as a global polluter. Bouncing back from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the company is heavily committed to Canadian tar-sands extraction and Arctic drilling. Sponsorship of the Olympics is perfect cover.

BP’s Olympic web-presence wears tasteful green, features athlete in green bikini, and proclaims the company ‘London 2012’s Sustainability Partner and the Official Carbon Offset Partner with Target Neutral’.

Why is it like this? Because major cultural events reflect the societies in which they are embedded.

The ancient Olympics comprised a series of religious ceremonies in honour of the pagan deities. They were in origin the fertility rites of primitive farmers. This included the sports: athletic prowess was an offering to god.

The sort of routine religious procession you will see all over Greece, involving libations, animal sacrifice, and the musical accompaniment of pipes and lyre. The main difference at Olympia is that women play almost no role.

The sort of routine religious procession you will see all over Greece, involving libations, animal sacrifice, and the musical accompaniment of pipes and lyre. The main difference at Olympia is that women play almost no role.

So the whole thing was run by a board of officials from the local town supported by a small staff of priests, heralds, and groundsmen. The cost of the event was minimal – mainly animals for sacrifice – and this was almost certainly more than covered by the revenue brought in by having up to 100,000 visitors camped out at the holy sanctuary for five days.

London 2012, on the other hand, is an artefact of modern corporate capitalism. That it should be sponsored by Dow and BP seems entirely natural to the organisers of the Games.

LOCOG, after all, is itself made up of members of the political and business elite. It would never have occurred to them to do otherwise than to pollute the Olympics with corporate logos, corporate privilege, and corporate green-wash.

A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient Olympics

A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient Olympics

Dr Neil Faulkner is research fellow at the University of Bristol, fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and codirector of several field projects. A freelance archaeologist and historian, his previous books include Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt against Rome and Rome: Empire of the Eagles. He lives in Hertfordshire, UK.

A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics is published in April 2012.

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