My team have been out on the streets of East London interviewing anti-corporate protestors coming together in a combined “Day of action” to use the London 2012 Games as a platform for their campaigns. After last night’s Danny Boyle extravaganza the nation is feeling incredibly positive about the Games but there remains a significant minority of people who are concerned about the role of corporate sponsorship related to the Games.
Over the seven years I have been chair of the Commission I have met a wide variety of people from NGOs and also most of the corporate sponsors to talk about issues related to the sustainability of the Games and its legacy. Most of these relationships have been constructive and I think we have been helpful in providing neutral, unbiased assurance and fact based analysis of the issues within our scope of responsibility. Sir David Higgins once referred to the Commission as “the single source of the truth about sustainability and London 2012”. We have tried to live up to this challenge at all times.
However, there have been exceptions. Some corporations are inclined to demonstrate ultra-defensive behaviour and reach for their lawyers as a first reaction to any inconvenient truths we reveal that may be seen to damage their brand or reputation. In other instances I have been subjected to significant pressure from senior management within sponsor companies to accept their point of view.
Earlier in the year we met a group representing genuine concerns directly related to the supply chain of London 2012. We met on the understanding that this would be a private meeting to enable us to share views openly and that neither of us would quote the meeting to the media. What I did not know was they had a film crew outside the building, they had been filmed coming in and were interviewed immediately they left the meeting, making verbatim (but out of context) quotes from the discussion. I don’t consider this to be an ethical approach.
The roles of the organising committee LOCOG and the IOC are far from clear. They engage with the more business friendly stakeholders such as WWF but there has been a tendency to leap to the defence of their sponsors in the face of criticism. Sponsorship in sport at all levels is vitally important, there would be no sport as we know it without sponsors but it is necessary to have a balanced view.
Winston Churchill once said “Jaw jaw jaw is better than war war war”. I fully respect the right to peaceful protest and the right of corporations to use legal means to protect their shareholders but sometimes I wish both sides would talk a bit more. Maybe this can be achieved after the Games when there is less money and emotion involved. I plan to facilitate a series of open discussions for our final report “Beyond 2012” where we will try to evaluate the Olympic effect on more sustainable behaviour and explore ways in which future Games may harness all this energy in ingenuity in a more constructive way.