Ambulances banned from Olympic lanes. Security companies being paid millions for creating a shortfall and forcing the Army to step in. The dreary British summer has done nothing to improve the public mood about the forthcoming Olympic Games, but the real problem for London 2012 is LOCOG.
LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, have produced a document entitled Brand Protection. It details a list of words which cannot legally be used by non-sponsors, laid out in a handy A4 flowchart accompanied by ten pages of supporting notes and examples. In short, 'Games', Two Thousand and Twelve', '2012' and 'Twenty-Twelve' cannot be combined with the words 'London', 'medals', 'sponsors', 'gold', 'silver', 'bronze' or 'summer' in such a way as to imply a link with the Olympic connection.
This week, the above billboard appeared in London, right outside the Olympic Village. @AndrewBloch appears to have posted the original photo on Twitpic on Tuesday evening. It's very cheeky, it's very British, and it's also highly illegal.
Nobody is exempt from these language bans. Schools cannot portray Olympic themes unless they have joined the official Get Set programme. Nor can they show any broadcast footage of any Games (past or present) in class. Photos are banned in education unless used in school reports (apart from a measly selection of 14 fairly dull stock photos). This means we're unlikely to see many schools offering 'Mini Games' for sports day this year, although we may see them offering 'contests to celebrate a season of sport for children', or something similar.
LOCOG has gone so far as to issue a series of 'safe', approved posters for celebratory community and business events. However, when writing the wording on the poster, the organisers may not claim to be enjoying the London 2012 Games. After all, your Olympic coffee morning might annoy one of the multinational sponsors, such as McDonalds Corp. (Incidentally, the multinational fast food chain has the sole right to sell 'chips' any Games venue, with a ban on 800 other food vendors from selling them. The irony is that McDonalds will probably call them 'fries'.)
Businesses must choose their words carefully: they are not allowed to imply any link with the Olympics or associate any product with the Games if that product isn't a sponsor. Greasy spoon cafes are banned from selling cheeky Games-themed fry-ups with carefully arranged onion rings on the side. Existing businesses have been forced to change their names. Should a restaurant or bar show any of the games, they'll be banned from showing the name of a beer on the blackboard on the pavement outside.
Officers from the ominous-sounding Olympic Delivery Authority are currently patrolling the country, taking down any material which could be seen as Olympic-themed advertising. Should a retailer refuse to comply, ODA staff will have the legal right to enter the premises. They can also hit shops, businesses, charities and religious groups with a fine for up to £20,000. Pensioner Joy Tomkins didn't escape the rules: her £1 charity fundraiser doll, hand-knitted for a church fête, was banned back in May.
The actions of LOCOG don't bode well for business either. In PRWeek, Sara Luker reports that many marketing companies are running scared, diluting any allusions to sporting events in ads. Much of the advertising we may otherwise have seen will be withheld until the Games are over, according to the MD of W Communications, Warren Johnson.
This kind of legal restriction seems unreasonable, to put it very lightly. A ban on the very lexicon people use to celebrate the Olympics takes sport, joy, awe and celebration out of the hands of local communities and places it into the hands of corporations. Trademarks are not new, and the Olympic Games have a right to protect their brand. But brand protection has never been enforced with such zeal; it seems we are entering a new era of linguistic control and sponsorship deals.
Branding and corporate sponsorship are one thing, but language is another. Imposing restrictions on the words we use to celebrate a global event - and arguably the UK's biggest tourist attraction of the decade - seems incredibly pompous. Denying small businesses the chance to mention the games (or, indeed, sell chips) seems inexplicably petty. No wonder people are posting illegal billboards to ram the point home.
Banning small businesses, organisations and non-profit groups from advertising Olympics-themed events in natural wording seems to be against the spirit of the Games. The whole affair has done the spirit of London 2012 no favours at all.