Chips out, army in: Olympic Games under fire

Olympic controversies. Clockwise from top left: the logo, missiles, sponsors and special lanes.

The Olympics are coming. But for all the excitement, many are concerned that the Games are being taken over by corporations and the military. Now, 3,000 further troops are on their way.

Yesterday morning, the British army received an urgent demand from the government. Immediately, commanders were scrambling to mobilise three thousand troops. Is this the buildup to a war in Syria? The response to a terrorist attack? Neither – it is the 2012 Olympics.

Over the last year, parts of East London have begun to resemble a heavily militarised zone. The Olympic Village itself is ringed by a monstrous metal fence. Above it, drones will soon roam the city skies, scanning the streets for suspicious activity.

With twenty thousand security personnel taking part, this is the country’s biggest mobilisation of security forces since World War II. And to some residents, it feels alarmingly like an invasion. The owner of one block of flats recently lost a lawsuit against the Ministry of Defence, after they declared that his property was to gain a new feature: a fearsome battery of surface-to-air missiles, mounted on the roof.

The Olympic Committee insist that these precautions are necessary to ensure the safety of athletes and observers. But while troops gathered outside the Olympic site, a rebellion was already unfolding within. The battleground: chips.

McDonald’s, one of the main corporate backers of the Games, has constructed an enormous mega-restaurant among the Olympic venues. Capacity: 1,500. As part of its sponsorship deal, McDonald’s insists that every single portion of chips in the entire complex should be branded with a golden ‘M.’ A fish and chip shop was granted the right to sell chips – but only alongside battered cod.

An uprising ensued, with volunteers furiously demanding their right to fishless chips. Eventually, McDonald's agreed to make an exception – but this was just one symptom of a far wider gripe.

Corporate sponsors like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Heineken – none of them renowned for their commitment to health and fitness – have stamped their authority all over London 2012. Products from rival companies must be hidden within the site; even clothing with too conspicuous a message is banned.

Olympic McGames

This Olympics is not about sport, say opponents: it is a festival of heavy-handed power and materialism. These tacky, elitist games are sucking the spirit out of our national identity and turning London into a corporate police state. If this Olympics reflects anything about our broader culture, they say, Britain is heading down a very miserable path indeed.

Lighten up, say enthusiasts. Of course security needs to be tight, and McDonald’s has every right to ask for something in return for their cash. Without these things, they say, this glorious festival of sport would be impossible. It is time we just sat sit back and enjoyed the show.

You Decide

  1. If the military installed a surface-to-air missile launcher on your rooftop, would you object?
  2. Can too much corporate influence ruin sporting occasions?


  1. Design your ideal Olympics. Where would it be held? Who would be involved? What kind of food would be for sale? Who would get the tickets? Be as imaginative as you can.
  2. Write the dialogue for an angry exchange over the McDonald’s chip monopoly, between an Olympic volunteer and an executive for the fast food chain.

Some People Say...

“I hate the Olympics.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s all this security for? Is there likely to be a huge terrorist attack or something?
Major festivals and sporting events are always tightly guarded these days, because they are natural targets for anybody bent on causing destruction and terror. That has been especially true for the Olympics since 1972, when eleven Israeli athletes were captured and killed by a Palestinian terrorist group.
So that’s a yes?
The Olympic Committee has planned for every possible contingency. With so much security, London ought to be safe.
Phew. What about the economic impacts – will it be good for London?
There’s a lot of debate about that. A report released yesterday predicted the Games would boost the economy by £16 billion. But other experts insist it will damage the economy rather than help it.

Word Watch

Scrambling to mobilise
The order came after private security firm G4S admitted that they were struggling to deploy all of the roughly 10,000 guards that they had promised in their Olympic contract. This development led to a furious debate in parliament and the media, with Labour accusing the government of ‘having their heads in the sand.’
‘Unmanned aerial vehicles,’ or drones, have become the subject of much controversy recently. Most of this has focused on their role covertly killing insurgents in Pakistan, but a debate has also arisen over unarmed surveillance drones. These are being gradually introduced to monitor protests and crowded events.
Health and fitness
One of the main claims made on behalf of the Olympics is that it would improve public participation in sport. In a recent survey, however, only four percent of Britons said that the Games would motivate them to play significantly more sport.
Too conspicuous a message
Mostly this means a political message, though anything obviously advertising a non-Olympic brand is also prohibited. Other curious items on Olympic site’s banned list include bayonets and excessively large hats.


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