25/11/2011 08:40 GMT

Indian Athletes Threaten To Boycott London Olympics Over Dow Sponsorship

Indian athletes are threatening to boycott the London Olympic Games in protest over the sponsorship of Dow Chemicals, a company linked to the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

The Indian Olympic Association is to hold a vote in 10 days time over whether its athletes should boycott the London Games.

“Many Olympic athletes have expressed concern about it and they are upset that Dow is sponsoring the London Olympics and they want to boycott," Vijay Malhotra, acting president of the IOA, said.

Dow, the "official chemistry company of the Olympic Movement" that will provide a 'wrap' for the Olympic stadium, owns Union Carbide.

That company ran a plant in Bhopal, India, which leaked poisonous gases into the local area, killing an estimated 25,000 people.

Dow bought the business in 2001, and has rejected regular calls to pay for a cleanup operation in the area, saying that an earlier settlement by Union Carbide fulfilled its obligations.

Survivors groups and human rights organisations have kept up pressure on Dow Chemicals since then, with the most high-profile action a stunt by the hoaxer collective the Yes Men, who successfully infiltrated a shareholder meeting and one managed to secure a BBC interview, posing as the company's representative "Jude Finisterra" and accepting responsibility for the accident.

In August the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) announced the deal with Dow to provide a £7m "sustainable" facing for the main Olympic stadium.

"The stadium will look spectacular at Games time and having the wrap is the icing on the cake. I’m delighted that Dow, as one of the newer worldwide partners of the Olympic Movement, will be providing it and importantly doing it in a sustainable way. It reflects our vision and is a real statement of intent from Dow about their commitment to the Games," Sebastian Coe, Locog's chair, said at the time.

Later, in front of the culture, media and sport select committee, Coe defended Dow, saying: "I am the grandson of an Indian so I'm not completely unaware of this as an issue. But I am satisfied that at no time did Dow operate, own or were involved with the plant at the time of the disaster or the time of the full and final settlement."

Barry Gardiner MP, chair of the Labour Friends of India who has led the campaign, said on Friday: “Locog cannot continue to ignore the risk that Dow poses to the Games. I urge Lord Coe to think of the athletes. They need to focus on preparing to give the performance of their lives.

"It is not fair to distract them or have them embroiled in a political dispute. LOCOG made a mistake in partnering with Dow. They must now accept that, end the relationship and lift this cloud from London 2012. They now have a deadline of 10 days to do so.”

Amnesty International, which has been among the principal supporters of the campaign for Locog to reassess its plans to work with Dow, said in a statement on Friday:

"Locog put itself in an untenable situation in granting the wrap contract to the Dow Chemical company, in the face of its continuing failure to address one of the worse corporate related human rights disasters of the 20th century.  It should put as a central concern the outstanding needs of the survivors of Bhopal and recognise that ongoing human rights concerns were not properly considered prior to the contract being given to Dow."

Tessa Jowell MP, shadow olympics minister, added: “This is a very significant step to take for the Indian Olympic Association on behalf of their athletes. It is a reminder to the world, nearly 27 years after the disaster in Bhopal, of the continuing outrage in India at the apparent indifference towards the suffering Union Carbide has caused.”