Magazine article The Spectator

Censorship Olympics

Magazine article The Spectator

Censorship Olympics

Article excerpt

The organisers of the Games have been handed unprecedented control over everyday speech

The guards would not let me walk round the Olympic park. 'We're in lockdown because of a security alert, ' one explained. The rain fell. The overbearing policing intimidated. 'London is going to host the Paralympics and the paramilitary Olympics, ' I muttered with unpatriotic grumpiness, as I retreated to the bright lights and piped music of Stratford's new Westfield centre, only to find another lockdown in progress.

David Cameron said the Olympics should be a 'showcase of national enterprise and innovation'. As far as the enterprising shopkeepers and restaurant managers at Westfield were concerned, the G ames might as well not be happening. There were no adverts inviting people to enjoy Olympic lunches at the cafes or signs in the shop windows wishing Team GB the best. Westfield had little to distinguish it from any other shopping centre from New York to Shanghai. They were coy because Britain is at the start of an experiment in the criminalisation of everyday speech; a locking down of the English language with punishments for those who speak too freely .

In the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act of 2006, the government granted the organisers remarkable concessions. Most glaringly, its Act is bespoke legislation that breaks the principle of equality before the law. Britain has not offered all businesses and organisations more powers to punish rivals who seek to trade on their reputation. It has given privileges to the Olympics alone. The government has told the courts they may wish to take particular account of anyone using two or more words from what it calls 'List A' - 'Games'; 'Two Thousand and Twelve'; '2012'; 'twenty twelve'. The judges must also come down hard on a business or charity that takes a word from List A and conjoins it with one or more words from 'List B' - 'Gold'; 'Silver'; 'Bronze'; 'London'; 'medals'; 'sponsors'; 'summer'. Common nouns are now private property.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games does not stop there. To cover all eventualities, it warns the unwary that they can create an 'unwarranted association' without using forbidden words. They threaten anyone who infringes the exclusive deals of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Adidas, Dow, Samsung, Visa and the Games' other multi-million-dollar sponsors in however oblique a manner. And not just with the normal damages in the civil courts. The state has granted the police powers under the criminal law to enter 'land or premises' and to 'remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article'.

The Olympics want to ban the often witty attempts by businesses to annoy the official sponsors with 'ambush marketing'. My favourite was at the 1992 Winter Olympics when American Express ran an ad saying, 'You don't need a visa to visit the Games' - which Visa had, of course, sponsored. Visa could do nothing about American Express's cheek then. Now the authorities will meet similar attempts to spoil the sponsors' party with punishments in the criminal courts.

To concentrate on the interests of sponsors, however, is to miss the fanaticism of the authoritarian mentality behind the Games.

Priests sacrificed oxen and rams to Zeus and Pelops at the ancient Olympics. Their successors sacrifice the freedom to speak and publish to the gods of corporate capitalism and international sport. They regard encroachments on their holy space, however trifling, as a modern version of sacrilege. …

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