07 December 2011

Play To Protest in The Olympics: Maken

India is being encouraged to participate in the forthcoming 2012 Olympics in London by the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, Mr. Ajay Maken, as stated in The Hindu. Mr. Maken said this in response to the 2012 Olympics being sponsored by Dow Chemical, which owns Union Carbide, instrumental in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Mr. Maken also said that it would serve the case of the gas victims better if the Indians athletes participated in the events and made a strong statement against Dow in London itself through symbolic gestures.

Mr. Maken quoted, “We have written to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) saying that they take up the matter with International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOA should keep in mind the sensitivity around this issue in India and especially in Bhopal.” He also said that the IOA should make an effort to end the sponsorship and wanted it to strongly take up the issue at the highest level.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has asked the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to ask the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry to raise the controversial matter of Dow Chemical sponsorship for the London Olympics 2012 with IOC. This has been ordered to be done through the National Olympic Committee, in view of the strong public opinion within India.

IOA Acting President, Mr. V.K. Malhotra, said that, “We will discuss this issue in our Executive Board and General Body Meeting on December 15. We will try to make Games organizers aware of the feeling of the people who have suffered due to that tragedy” and “It is not only the Indians who are protesting this sponsorship, there has been an outcry against this world over from various NGOs and other bodies, it is no longer a local issue.”

According to BBC, IOA said that it would "make the organizers aware of the feelings of the people who have suffered." In a letter to the IOA, the Sports Ministry said, "Strong public sentiment exists in this matter” and that a number of eminent ex-Olympians have also raised their concerns. It also said, "We would advise the Indian Olympic Association to raise this matter immediately with the IOC while keeping the government informed."

The Union government has filed a petition seeking a compensation of 100 crores from Dow for environmental remediation costs. Dow has said in the past that its $470m (£288m) settlement for those affected by the tragedy is fair and final. Also, Dow has recently refused to provide additional compensation to the victims. The Chairman of the London Olympics, Sebastian Coe, conveyed to the Indian Mission that they had examined the legal liability of Dow and are quite satisfied with the sponsorship decision and offered to make a presentation for the Mission on the issue.

However, the Mayor of London has indicated that they would like to know India’s thinking in this matter, given the importance of the relations between India and the United Kingdom. Apart from public outcry from all over the country and the world, various NGOs have come to support India regarding this issue. Amnesty International is already critical of Dow’s link to the Olympics and has said that the sponsorship deal was a slap on the face for the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It also said that the presence of other human rights groups could give the issue the global attention it deserves.

Despite the diplomatic approach of the parties involved, various questions surround this controversial and sensitive issue. Dow Chemical is questioning the Indian government regarding its late reaction to the settlement. Also, various activists are questioning Dow’s attitude towards the survivors of the Bhopal Tragedy, which seems a bit indifferent. They are also questioning Dow’s refusal to accept responsibility of the aftermath. Right now, the residents of Bhopal need all the help they can get to recover thoroughly from the disaster of 1984. After all, humanity costs nothing.