27 July 2012

A reminder of the values of democracy and fair play

Who allowed these horses’ hooves to trample on the highly-protected rings of the Olympic logo?

Patrick Comerford

The opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, has been spectacular television viewing this evening. London 2012 lasts until 12 August ... so I may just miss the chaos at Heathrow Airport and the traffic congestion of the next two weeks when I arrive on 13 August.

This evening’s creative, exuberant and imaginative pageant is less about the Olympics and Olympian values than it was about celebrating the best of being British – just as the recent jubilee celebrations in England were more about pride in being English than a resurgence in royalism.

It has been a celebration of diversity in a positive and inclusive way, balancing humour and sensitivity, history and childhood, culture and fun, comedy and music, Shakespeare and the Archers, Handel and Punk, James Bond ad Mr bean, science and art, industry and agriculture, embracing all irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or ability. There were the armed forces and the CND logo. There was the Archbishop of Canterbury and there were Sikhs in turbans. It was much more than the Anglo-Saxon inheritance abused by the Mitt Romney campaign with racist innuendos earlier this week. And it also makes me wonder how the Cameron Government can now continue to move against the NHS?
But I was baffled to see a photograph on the official website of the Greek newspaper Kαθημερινη earlier this week of members of the Household Cavalry riding down along a reserved Olympic Lane at Parliament Square. This may have been about British pride ... but what had it to do with the Olympics Games?

Drivers are struggling with the 30 miles of Games Lanes reserved exclusively for the 82,000 Olympic athletes, officials, VIPs, sponsors and accredited journalists. The horses of the Household Cavalry were hardly rehearsing for the dressage or show jumping events, nor were those horses among the animals in last night’s opening event.

London 2012 is so tightly controlled it is a wonder that the organisers allowed the horses’ hooves to trample across the highly-protected rings of the Olympic logo. The five-ring Olympic symbol and the words “Olympic”, “Olympics”, and “Olympiad” are not just owned and controlled by the various Olympic committees, but they are protected by a web of laws and regulations that severely restrict the use of the brands in promotion and advertising and restrict who can refer to the brands and under what circumstances.

The 1981 Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol identifies the five-colour Olympic rings as the symbol of the games, and requires nations that sign the treaty to invalidate any attempt to register that symbol and to take steps to enforce against illicit commercial use of the symbol, other than on behalf of the International Olympic Committee.

British legislation means that using certain phrases like “supporting the London Games,” “lighting the flame,” or even just “2012″ in promotions around London could run the risk of liability if they are used in a context that suggests an association or reference to the 2012 Olympics.

While the main goals are to protect the official Olympic brands and to ensure that “ambush marketers” do not undercut valuable sponsorships, the practical outcome can lead to bizarre results – with broadcasters, bloggers and and non-sponsoring advertisers often referring to the Olympics as “the games,” or some other label that often leaves the rest of us wondering at times what they are talking about.

One implication for the increasingly overlapping world of advertising, news and social networking, is for the way the games can be referred to on social networking sites, including blogs and Facebook.

Who is going to differentiate between inadvertent, inappropriate and unavoidable uses of the Olympic words, brands and marks?

Who decides what is fair comment or fair reporting, and what is an infringement?

Olympic Air is an official partner of the Hellenic Olympic Committee

What about a night at the Olympia Theatre in Dame Street in Dublin?

Or watching a movie starring Olympia Dukakis?

Or what about booking a flight with the Greek airline Olympic Air, an official partner of the Hellenic Olympic Committee?

Olympic Air was formed from the privatisation of Olympic Airlines in 2009, and has a story that goes back to Aristotle Onassis and his Olympic Airways. When Onassis was looking for a new logo for Olympic Airways, the International Olympic Committee blocked his proposed design and so a new, six-ring logo was produced in yellow, red, blue and white. The first five rings represented the five continents, and the sixth stood for Greece.

Onassis had to find a new logo after the International Olympic Committee protested about his designs

Onassis chose the Olympic name because of his passion for ancient Greece. Many of his companies carried the Olympic name such as Olympic Maritime, and he followed the same naming pattern for his ships, with names such as Olympic Legacy, Olympic Palm and Olympic Explorer.

In these days when financial priorities are over-riding political considerations, when Angela Merkel those who are clamouring for a “Grexit” forget that European democracy has its roots in classical Greece, it is a pity that many forget that the Olympics too have their roots in classical Greece.

The first Olympic track at Olympia in western Greece

I have run the Olympic tracks at two Olympic stadiums. But before you think I’m boasting or deluded, let me explain that I gently lapped two Olympic tracks – the original track in Olympia, which I visited ten years ago while I was on holiday in Zakynthos in 2002, and the Panathenaic Stadium when I was on one of my many working visits to Athens in 1990s.

In all the fuss over the next few weeks we should not forget that Greece is the home of the Olympics, having invented the games in 776 BC as a sports festival in ancient Olympia, and having hosted the first modern Games in Athens in 1896.

The stadium in Olympia is part of a larger archaeological site. The track is 212.54 metres long and 28.5 metres wide and surrounded by grassy banks on all sides. All the seats were made of mud and the stadium could hold 50,000 spectators.

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on a €100 Greek commemorative coin

The Panathinaiko or Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, also known as the Kallimarmaro (Καλλιμάρμαρο, the beautifully marbled), is one of the oldest stadiums in the world, and hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It was rebuilt from the remains of the classical Greek Panathenaic stadium, and but was used originally not for the Olympic Games but for the athletic events in the Panathenaic Games.

The stadium was remade in marble by Lycurgus in 329 BC and is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble. It was enlarged and renovated by Herod Atticus in 140 AD, and could seat 50,000 spectators. It was refurbished in 1870s, and again in 1895 for the 1896 Olympics.

The stadium is in central Athens, beside the National Gardens and the Zappeion, close to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Hadrian’s Gate, and a short walk from Syntagma Square and the Greek Parliament.

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was recently selected as the main motif for a high value Greek €100 collectors’ coin.

The home of the Greek Olympic Team in the Olympic Village ... they may feel at home, but are they planning on brining the Parthenon Marbles back to Athens?

The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was used for some of the events at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, which marked the peak of an era of triumph and affluence in Greece that has vanished in the present economic crisis.

Eight years later, the Greek team that led all the nations into the London Olympic Stadium tonight, is the smallest in 20 years. The team of 103 athletes – 65 men and 38 women – have complained in recent weeks about the poor conditions in which they have trained, and many of them have had to cover their own expenses.

The team’s budget has been cut by over two thirds, and many Greek commentators have asked how prepared the athletes are and whether they can equal the four medals Greece won in Beijing in 2008.

“The crisis hit and the Greek state could not provide assistance. They told us we would get €30 million to help the athletes prepare, but gave us €8 million and then nothing,” says Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee. The Greek Athletics Federation cannot cover its own needs and provided no assistance either. Private sponsors stepped in and partially covered the athletes’ needs.

In the past week, the Greek Olympic squad has lost two of its high-profile athletes. The world indoor high jump champion, Dimitris Chondrokoukis, was dropped yesterday [Thursday] after testing positive for banned anabolic steroid Stanozolol. He was one of Greece’s high hopes for a medal, and this was the second blow in two days for Greece,

The offending and offensive racist tweet

The Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greek Olympic team on Wednesday for her comments on Twitter mocking African immigrants and expressing support for the far-right party Golden Dawn. The Hellenic Olympic Committee ruled her comments were “statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”

Her Twitter account contains several retweets and postings of YouTube videos promoting the racist and extremist views of Golden Dawn. Commenting on the widely-reported appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens, she tweeted: “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”

Several of her retweets were original tweets by Ilias Kasidiaris, one of the 18 Golden Dawn deputies in parliament. A few weeks ago, during the election campaign, he struck one left-wing woman deputy in the face and threw water over another during a TV talk show. Papachristou tweeted to Kassidiaris on his name day last week: “Many happy years, be always strong and true!!!”

Her tweets caused public outrage and anger. Democratic Left, one of the three parties in the coalition government, criticised her “racist humour” and called on the Hellenic Olympic Committee to expel her from the Olympics. “Let her make any miserable ‘jokes’ on social media while watching the games on TV. She definitely cannot represent Greece in London.”

Eventually, she posted on her Facebook page: “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

It was a post designed to save her place in the Greek Olympic squad. Her expulsion is a reminder not only of the Greek origins of the Olympics and the danger posed to sport by racism but also of the need to defend Greece’s democracy and Greece’s place in modern Europe. As I watched the Greek athletes appropriately leading all the national teams into the stadium tonight, I hoped these ideas were not lost on the nations that followed them into the stadium in alphabetical order.

Speaking to the Athens News last week, the Greek Olympic mission chief, Isidoros Kouvelos, spoke of the importance of the Games for Greek society. “The Greeks are also fighting their own battle. The athletes will try to outdo themselves, because these people, this country, needs to have a success and needs hope,” he said. “Sport can give people hope.”

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