x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Support for India to boycott of 2012 Olympic Games is growing

Former athletes and human-rights groups say $9m chemical firm sponsorship deal for London 2012 is wrong as victims 'still await Bhopal tragedy payout'.

A settlement was reached in 1989 for Union Carbide to pay $470m but the Indian government wants an additional $1.7bn for the victims. An official has asked the India Olympic Association to boycott next year's Olympic Games in protest.
A settlement was reached in 1989 for Union Carbide to pay $470m but the Indian government wants an additional $1.7bn for the victims. An official has asked the India Olympic Association to boycott next year's Olympic Games in protest.

NEW DELHI // The Indian Olympic Association will vote next week on whether to boycott the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Objections have been raised over a reported sponsorship deal signed for US$9.37 million (Dh34.4m) between the US company Dow Chemical and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) to "wrap" the company's name in cloth around the Olympic stadium.

Human-rights groups and former Indian Olympic athletes petitioned the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to boycott the London Games in outrage over the advertising deal.

Dow owns Union Carbide, another US chemical firm that it acquired in 2001. Union Carbide's Indian plant in Bhopal blew up in 1984, leaking methyl isocyanate gas used to produce pesticides and adhesives. Thousands of people died and the health of more than half a million others was harmed. The Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

Dow also has a $1 billion deal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state, has asked the Indian government to support the campaign to boycott the 2012 London Olympics. He has also written to Ajay Maken, India's sports minister, asking him to back the decision, saying that there are still outstanding lawsuits and the company is still subject to litigation.

However, the acting head of the IOA, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, on Monday played down the chance of a boycott.

"At the moment, there is no talk of a boycott," he said. "There are concerns being expressed in the country by some former Olympians and the chief minister of the state where this tragedy happened.

"The idea is to convey the concern about it [to the organisers] and to ask them to reconsider. That's all."

The vote by the association is set for Monday.

A settlement was reached in 1989 between the Indian government and Union Carbide to pay $470m for those killed or injured but the Indian government is seeking an additional $1.7bn for the victims.

"The funds intended for sponsoring the Olympics would be far better spent in alleviating the misery suffered by the people of Bhopal," said Mr Chauhan last week.

Interest groups have also objected to the money being spent on advertising instead of compensating victims' families and cleaning up the area around the abandoned factory.

"The victims feel this is quite a shameful response to the tragedy. It adds insult to injury because compensation was never properly paid," said Colin Gonzales, a US Supreme Court lawyer who has worked with a number of survivors fighting for compensation.

"The area around the abandoned factory has not been cleaned up, yet they are spending millions of pounds in advertisements for the Olympics," he added.

"You have money for the Olympics but you do not have money to clean up what mess your subsidiary left behind?"

Last night Dow Chemical spokesman Scot Wheeler said: "It is disappointing that some people are trying to assign blame and responsibility to Dow," adding that Dow didn't own or operate the Bhopal plant at the time of the incident.

"Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation more than 16 years after the tragedy, and 10 years after the $470m settlement agreement - paid by Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India, Limited - was approved by the Indian Supreme Court."

Mr Wheeler also noted that "the state government of Madhya Pradesh owns and controls the site and is in the best position, and has the authority under the direction of the courts, to complete whatever remediation may be necessary".

The campaign to get India to boycott the London Games began with an online petition created in August by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a non-government organisation that represents survivors fighting for compensation from Dow.

Rachna Dhingra, of the campaign, said she was surprised at the outpouring of support after a petition with their concerns about the sponsorship deal was made public.

More than 22 Indian athletes have lent their support to a petition sent to the organising committee for the 2012 London Games asking it to scrap Dow's sponsorship and the planned curtain-style wrap around the stadium, Ms Dhingra said.

The organisation's next step, she said, was to reach out to more international and Indian athletes who will travel to London next year. She hopes to garner yet more support for a boycott in the hope that it will force Dow to pay the full amount of compensation mandated by the Indian government.

"The survivors, they want justice and a life of dignity," she said. "Such an occasion, where the company is getting such prominence, they feel like the company's sins are being forgiven by this display."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Associated Press