London Olympic organizers won't scrap Dow deal

November 15, 2011 - 12:10 PM
Monaco Sports Track Athlete of the Year

Prince Albert II of Monaco, center, poses with President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, Lamine Diack, left, and former British middle distance runner and London bid president for the 2017 world track and field championships, Sebastian Coe, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Monaco, ahead the 2011 World Athletics Gala Awards. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

LONDON (AP) — London organizers intend to keep Dow Chemical as the sponsor of an artistic wrap encircling the 2012 Olympic Stadium despite concerns in India over the company's links to the Bhopal gas leak disaster in 1984.

Indian athletes and rights organizations wrote to the London organizing committee Monday demanding an end to the association with Dow. In 2001, Dow bought the Union Carbide factory in the central India city of Bhopal, where an estimated 15,000 people died following a poisonous leak.

Dow maintains it never owned or operated the Bhopal plant, and that legal claims regarding the leak were resolved when Union Carbide paid $470 million as compensation for those killed or injured.

"We are satisfied that Dow was not in ownership, operation or involved in the site at the time (of the disaster) or at the time the full and final settlement was made," LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe said at a British parliamentary hearing.

Dow, which denies responsibility for the Union Carbide factory's Bhopal liabilities, became one of London's global sponsors last year. In addition, the American-based company is both funding and making the $11 million curtain-style wrap that will encircle the Olympic Stadium in east London.

Coe said he stands "entirely behind the procurement process we went through" to secure Dow as a sponsor in July 2010 and insisted links with the manufacturer wouldn't taint LOCOG despite Indian Olympians saying the relationship is "offensive to the spirit of the Olympic Games."

"It (the process) looked at the options on offer, the sustainability of those options and, by some distance, they came out ahead on any one of those reasons," he said.

Coe did raise concerns about the possibility of a strike by taxi drivers during next year's games. Some cab drivers are angry about the installation of special lanes that can be used only by officials, athletes and sponsors.

"That would be an extraordinary route to take during a celebration of our city," said Coe, who described the 109 miles of special lanes as a "crucial lifeline" to the smooth running of the Olympics.

When a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee said taxi drivers were planning to "go on holiday" during the games and bring London to a "standstill," Coe said that would send the wrong message.

"Reputational damage to this city is possible if we can't get these clients or athletes to the events on time," Coe said.

Coe also expressed hope that the 70-day Olympic torch relay across Britain will make a detour to Dublin, the capital of Ireland.

"I think it would speak eloquently and powerfully for sport," said Coe, who added that Olympic officials were in advanced talks on the issue.

"I have spent a lot of time on this both in Northern Ireland and in conversations with the Republic. I would like to see a small visit south of the border but, as you can understand, these are complex discussions but it is our ambition to do this."

The torch will go through every English county, as well as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but Dublin hasn't yet been included in the route.