“The Olympics should be no place for ethics” – response to The Evening Standard

“The Olympics should be no place for ethics” – response to The Evening Standard

Last week, Sebastian Shakespeare published a controversial column in the London Evening Standard with the bold headline “The Olympics should be no place for ethics.”

The London Evening Standard’s lack of coverage over the growing issue of Dow’s London 2012 sponsorship has been a disappointment to Bhopal campaigners and Londoners who believe this story to be very much in the public interest.

In fact, this is only the second time the Standard have even mentioned the growing furore despite the story receiving substantial worldwide coverage. The Standard’s intransigence even landed them in Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column, back in December, after they repeatedly ignored press releases sent by the BMA:

The evening Standard is right behind the London Olympics, with a five strong team of Olympic Correspondents. But is it too partial and ignoring stories that might cast the games in a negative light?

The Bhopal Medical Appeal is making waves over Dow Chemicals’ creation of the ‘Wrap’, a plastic curtain that will surround the Olympic Stadium. In return Dow gets “exclusive marketing rights” to the stadium and will be able to brand the wrap with its name until the Games start. [Note from web-editor; Dow recently u-turned on this marketing agreement and the wrap will not feature their branding.]

The campaigners say Dow is avoiding financial responsibility for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. In 2011 Dow took over the plant from Union Carbide, which was responsible for the catastrophe, and Dow is now resisting any more claims for compensation from the relatives of those killed and the thousands still suffering from illness.

The Bhopal medical Appeal has the support of an all-party group of MPs, including shadow Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz, whiles questions are being raised with Boris Johnson at the London Assembly. A group of Indian Olympians also wrote to Lord Coe demanding that he “Dump Dow”.

You’d think even the most Olympic cheerleading paper would consider this was worth reporting- but it seems not. The Bhopal Medical Appeal sent two press releases to the Standard’s Olympic editor, Matthew Beard, alerting him to an MP’s press conference but received a single-word reply: ‘Unsubscribe.’ (Private Eye)

In a new low this recent column by Sebastian Shakespeare seemingly supports the sponsorship deal, and, quite bizarrely, went on to claim that sport is no place for ethics. This prompted a letter from Meredith Alexander, the erstwhile Sustainability Commissioner for London 2012, who recently resigned over the Dow controversy.

The Standard has decided it won’t print this letter, so in the interest of a balanced argument over the issue, we’re publishing it here:

Dear Sir,

What a shame to read in Sebastian Shakespeare’s jaded column last week that he believes “the Olympics should be no place for ethics.”

I think most Londoners share my view that ethics and sport can and must go hand in hand. Yet as things stand, the enjoyment of the Games risks being hampered by the toxic legacy of one of the sponsors: Dow Chemicals. Dow bought Union Carbide, who owned the chemical plant responsible for a horrific gas leak in Bhopal, India. As research from Amnesty International shows, the tragedy killed over 20,000 people and left tens of thousands with terrible health problems. Full compensation has never been paid. Sebastian Shakespeare contends that demanding Dow address this failure is “like holding the son responsible for the sins of the father.” Not so. It would be terribly convenient for Dow if the slate was wiped clean when a company was purchased. But Dow didn’t just buy the profit sheet, the shares and the expertise from Union Carbide. They also bought their legacy, the environmental tragedy of Bhopal and the responsibility for it. Warts, sin and all.

When London bid to host the 2012 Games, we made a promise to the world that it would be most sustainable Games ever. I can not see how we can square that with defending the appointment of a sponsor responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters of our time. Yours faithfully,

Meredith Alexander, Formerly of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012


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