Brand battles brand in slack Olympic ideal


Don’t mention that soft drink. And blank out the name plate of the hand dryer manufacturer

ON REFLECTION, the goldfish and I are enjoying the Olympics more than we had expected.

Giant female children swim faster than men with chests the size of Tasmania. Tattooed monsters lift massive barbells. Heck, in the olden days, you had to attend a travelling carnival to encounter this sort of entertainment. Where’s the cat that plays the trombone?

It’s not all good. As Iain Sinclair, the great London chronicler, explained in these pages on Wednesday, large swathes of blameless east London have been levelled to accommodate the construction of a cleaner, only mildly less triumphalist version of Albert Speer’s Welthauptstadt Germania. Ancient streets have been relegated to the status of digital ghosts: drop a pin in the Olympic velodrome on Apple’s map application and it will claim to rest in a thoroughfare that no longer exists.

But the most conspicuous irritant during the current games has been the tyranny of corporate sponsorship. Oddly, it is the absence of certain logos rather than the presence of others that has most startled observers.

Way back in January, reports explained how the good people at Coventry City Football Club were being forced to cover up all mention of Ricoh, their stadium’s sponsor, in the run-up to the football tournament. Even road signs that mentioned the “Ricoh Stadium” needed to be obliterated. It seems that the Japanese company was not an official sponsor of the games.

As this article has no formal relationship with the Olympics, I trust Lord Coe will allow us to point out that Ricoh manufacture a wide range of fine cameras at prices to fit every budget. That name again is Ricoh.

Where in the name of heck is the North Greenwich Arena? I have been wandering around that area of London and I can’t see it anywhere. I can see the historic Naval College. Over in the distance, I take in the O2 Stadium. But no such building seems to exist. At this rate, I’ll miss seeing the drug-addled hermaphrodites leaping superhumanly from parallel bars.

You’re way ahead of me. The O2 Arena has been rechristened the North Greenwich Arena because O2 (that’s O2, in case you didn’t get it, sports fans) does not have the right relationship with the Olympics. All kinds of corporate hooey is afoot here.

A significant portion of the British public already refers to the O2 Arena (that’s five mentions, Sebastian) by a different name, but it seems as if the phrase “Millennium Dome” is too tainted to be permitted a place in the programme.

The greatest controversy has, however, gathered around, of all things, hand dryers in lavatories. Reporters and members of the public have noted, with a mixture of amusement and disbelief, that the manufacturers’ names have been blanked out on these devices.

Offering echoes of Soviet practices when dealing with dissidents, the Olympic authorities have decided that any product made by a manufacturer who does not contribute is a non-product. They acknowledge the existence of an Atlanta-based soft drink that claims to regulate the ratio of sugar to, well, more sugar in its beverage via a secret recipe. But Pepsi Cola is now a non-product. Hang on, do I have that right? Yes, it’s Pepsi Cola. Pepsi. That’s the company that isn’t the official tooth-annihilator of London 2012.

Last month, Lord Coe actually uttered the following words: “You probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because [popular brown drink] are our sponsors.” (My square brackets.)

Earlier this year, writing in the Independent, Mark Armitage, a trademark lawyer, attempted to justify the clampdown on non-sanctioned brands. He explained that a new statutory right called the London Olympics Association Right could prohibit companies from using “seemingly innocuous phrases” such as “summer 2012” and “London 2012”. (Is it okay if, as I have just done, I place them within inverted commas? Please don’t arrest me, Lord Coe. Who will take care of the fish?)

Armitage went on to tell supposed horror stories about Nike, which was not a sponsor, taking up “billboard space” around the entrance to the venues at the Atlanta Games. He failed to explain why this should shock us.

Sinclair has important things to say about the arrogance of the Olympic project. It would, however, be overstating it to claim (as I sort of did) that the organisers have created a pocket fascist state.

But, with the eerie renaming of public spaces, the rewriting of road signs and the blanking out of non-participating trademarks, it does begin to look as if the Olympics sponsors are acting like de facto commissars.

Well, they haven’t got me in their pocket. A correspondent to the Daily Telegraph, having peeled off the relevant sticker, tells us that the hand dryers at Wimbledon are made by Initial. I have always found that their devices remove the water from my pinkies very satisfactorily. That’s Initial. Do you have that?

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