I, like so many others in my home town, turned out last week to see the Olympic torch passing through my neighbourhood. What really stuck me was not the spectacle, but the commerciality of it all, in particular the myriad sponsorship vans at the head of the cavalcade. Visa, Coca-Cola, McDonalds. You can pay for Olympic tickets with a Visa card (no other credit cards allowed), and if you don’t currently use Visa, then “your bank will be able to help you select and apply for the Visa product that best suits your needs”, according to the London 2012 website. Food can be bought at the Olympic stadium from the biggest McDonalds outlet in the world. And while we were waiting for the flame to pass, my daughters were gifted a bottle of sparkling brown nectar by the nice people from Coca-Cola.
Something strikes me as wrong in all of this. Why is a global sporting event being part-sponsored by a fizzy drinks manufacturer and a chain of junk food restaurants? OK, so they can afford to provide sponsorship, but surely it would be more fitting for companies who at least make a nod towards healthy eating to be sponsoring? How about Prêt a Manger, for example? Perhaps they weren’t asked. But in the end it all comes down to what the consumer wants and what will sell, I suppose. And what the people want are burgers and fizzy drinks, evidently. Good health be damned.
Is this what it was like in Ancient Greece, I wonder? No one can really answer that question, of course. Global brands, in the sense that we experience them, wouldn’t have existed, so perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. But my gut feeling tells me that the modern approach is out of kilter and fails to reflect the true (original) nature and spirit of the Games.