The last time I was compelled to put pen to paper for the Huffington Post, I wrote of government ineptitude with the aid of Dante and the Seven Deadly Sins. Four months on, my subject matter has not changed but this time I will be taking you to ancient Greece...
These days the Greeks jump through hoops for the German Finance Minister, but in ancient times they played games for the entertainment of Zeus and his cohorts. Over the centuries their games have evolved and now it is not just the Gods who watch. In fact, in just over a week, the whole world will be watching as the quadrennial competitive pastime experience kicks off in Britain. Unfortunately, at the moment it looks like all the world will see is a lot of rain, a confused looking Home Secretary, soldiers taking the place of security guards, what looks like a broken rollercoaster and small patches of advertising emblazoned with a logo that looks like someone just coughed up nachos and Bermuda shorts on it. It is no longer Zeus' thunderbolt that gives the masses cause for concern, but surface to air missiles on residential tower blocks.
Hopefully these hints are enough to point you in the direction that this piece is going. I am finding it hard to explain why small business like ours have been gagged, but maybe the son of Zeus will help me clarify...
Although only sometimes listed amongst the twelve Gods of Olympus, legend has it that the games were founded in celebration of Hercules completing his twelve labours. To be honest Hercules had it easy; he only had to contend with an armoured lion, a nine-headed serpent, a raging boar and a flock of metal beaked birds. British businesses have had to do battle with two sets of incompetent governments.
In 2005 this country won the opportunity to host the worldwide multidiscipline sports orgy. Regrettably, we only seem to win these things in years when we could probably do without them, that is why we have so obviously given up on the Eurovision Song Contest (see Engelbert Humperdinck). But since the economic hardship began I have dared to hope that this event would act as a catalyst to a dramatic turn in the country's fortunes, just as it did after the Austerity Games of 1948. Unfortunately, rather than promoting the feel-good-factor, tourist influx and team spirit of the event, the then government (Labour) and the then opposition (the now current government) had other ideas. In 2006 they passed an Act of Parliament that created a monster worthy of Greek mythology: LOCOG. Although many businesses were incensed by the act passed in 2006, there was six years for the government and politicians to show some common sense and strangle the snake in the cradle as Hercules did, by amending some of the ridiculous facets of this Act. Unfortunately they did not. And so LOCOG is seemingly squishing the joy, camaraderie and national pride out of what London Mayor Boris Johnson promised us would be "the greatest show on earth". One of Hercules' labours was to divert a river to clean out a stable. This might seem a little heavy handed, but compared to the measures LOCOG has employed to clean any mention of the games from Britain's streets, it actually seems quite reasonable.
Hermes, the God of transitions and boundaries, was also the patron of commerce, athletics and sports. This role has since been taken over by LOCOG and its boundaries are clear: companies that are not official sponsors cannot mention the forthcoming competition. LOCOG has said "our legal rights are very wide and therefore any 'O*****c' themed campaign is likely to infringe them - even if it doesn't refer explicitly to the games" (please note: the O-word has been removed to protect innocent and enormous multinational sponsors). In fact LOCOG is an organisation so committed to eradicating any unlawful reference to the games, that they even removed the Paralympics from their own acronym. Oops, sorry I am not actually allowed to use the P-word either, or our country's capital city, the number corresponding to the year of the dragon, one-eyed mascots Wedlock and Mandible, shiny discs suspended on ribbons or the precious metals they are made from, interwoven coloured circles or that season between Spring and Autumn that does not seem to have happened this year, maybe LOCOG removed that too. LOCOG's red tape has left any businesses that do not have the kind of bank balances that could rescue Greece, and therefore afford to be an official sponsor, too scared to get involved. This surely cannot be wise?
Athena was the Goddess of wisdom. It seems to me that we could do with her help at this point. Don't get us wrong, sponsors deserve some exclusivity and should be protected, but stealing chunks of the English language, changing the name of the 02 Centre (presumably because it's very name threatens one of the mighty sponsors), banning MasterCard and AmEx (shouldn't we be promoting spending?), telling children that it matters what brand of trainers they wear (which goes against everything many parents have tried to teach their children) and threatening butchers, grannies and even the Middletons, seems a little extreme. Sponsors have stumped up £750m of the £9bn needed to host the games. A large portion of the remaining 90% of the bill will be footed by taxes paid by the public and local businesses who cannot even acknowledge that they know the event is taking place. So we would like to call on the Members of Parliament to do the right thing, show some backbone and recall The Commons from recess to do something that will promote the essence of the games and support our economy. With pasties, caravans, charitable donations and the school sport partnership, the current government have shown a willingness to listen to the public and the strength to reverse decisions they have made. Doing the same here might achieve a new personal best. At this late stage it is unlikely that the sponsors would withdraw their £750m and it would allow the public and small businesses to feel like they are part of an event they have been unable to get tickets for. Yes, I think an amendment to the 2006 Act would be just the ticket for small businesses. Maybe we could call it The Oddbins Amendment? Perhaps this draconian debacle has driven me mad?
Dionysus, better known over here under his Roman name of Bacchus, was the God of wine, freedom, celebration and fun. Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, struck Dionysus down with madness. She may have also had a go at Richard Caborn, the former sports minister, too. We all know that politicians say silly things from time to time, but speaking recently on the Today Programme he said "How many people have been in court or before a judge because of that 2006 act? Not one!" He seemed to be saying that the fact that nobody has been charged under the law means that the law is therefore correct. But reading between the lines he may also have been admitting, just a little too late for any businesses to make use of it, that the brand bullies are all bark and no bite. Unfortunately, when the dog is much bigger than you, it would be madness to poke it with a javelin to see if it has teeth (oops, we have done it again, by mentioning the pointy metal stick we did not mean to suggest that we have any association with the high speed rail network that serves that village next to Westfield).
Mad as Dionysus may have been, he undoubtedly would have been heavily involved in the ancient games. Unfortunately, we will not have the same privilege in these modern times. We did not want to use the official logo, allude to sponsorship or suggest that our product will improve your sporting prowess. What we wanted to do was to have some fun, join in, support our athletes and take advantage of an event that could begin our country's economic recovery. So, although we will be vocally supporting Collective GB in their pursuit of gilded neck trophies and raising a glass to every victory, this will not be obvious from our upcoming poster campaign. And this is because even though the games have changed, all must bend to the whim of the Gods of Olympus.