Olympic daily: There's a real fizz in this fab fortnight
22:34 GMT, 8 August 2012
This was a different kind of Pepsi Challenge. Before the London Olympics, Lord Coe declared that anyone turning up in a Pepsi T-shirt risked being turned away at the gate.
Quizzed on BBC Radio 4 about the Draconian protection of the Games’ main sponsors, Today presenter Evan Davies wondered if ticket-holders would be allowed to wear clothing that conflicted with those big-money deals.
‘Are people wearing Nike trainers allowed in even though rival adidas is a sponsor he asked.
Coe replied: ‘I think you probably could…’ Pressed again, Coe continued: ‘Let’s put some reality in this. You probably would be able to walk through with Nike trainers. Does that satisfy you’ Davies said: ‘Would I be allowed in wearing a Pepsi T-shirt’
Coe replied: ‘No, you probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project — but also millions of pounds into grassroots sport. It is important to protect these sponsors.’
Off to a T: Our man sports his illicit shirt
To adapt a phrase from the old advert, this seemed ‘gob-smacking, joy quenching, unforgiving, foul tasting, bad buzzing, cash talking, double dealing, embezzling … insert the name of a certain soft drink here.
So I wore a Pepsi T-Shirt to the Olympics. Not on purpose, you understand. After 12 days of duty in a hotel, the supply of clean clothes runs low and all I had left at the bottom of the suitcase was this old thing you see here.
Yes, it had the dreaded ‘Pepsi’ name on the front, but it was the only option. This might sound as convincing as an Algerian middle distance runner’s sicknote, but legal advisors will confirm this if my accreditation suddenly beeps ‘invalid’ at the gate.
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Nobody threw me out, though. Not at the security gates; not walking through the Park. Nobody ordered that I cover up this unofficial brand on the concourse, the food hall, the press box, or the media mixed zone.
None of the ‘brand police’ that stalked Britain’s high streets before the Olympic torch passed through, demanding displays of bagels or flowers arranged in the shape of the five rings be removed, pounced on me.
A couple of journalists took pictures and chuckled at the joke. I was even sat behind the finish line and might have popped up as a pixel or two in the background of a television shot.
But the common sense view was that Coca-Cola’s enormous multi-billion pound global marketing campaign could probably withstand little me wearing a tatty top in an 80,000-seater stadium. The London Organising Committee had previously confirmed this after Coe’s off-guard remark.
Coca-Cola are just one of 11 global Olympic sponsors, including Visa, McDonald’s and Omega, who jointly paid the International Olympic Committee 612million for exclusive rights.
Another 42 companies, such as British Airways, BT and BMW, contribute 700m more in hard cash and services to the 2012 organisers for the privilege of having their stamp on the Games.
But beyond the logos, the meanings of words begin to blur. One of the great contradictions of modern sport is that it embraces the purveyors of fatty, processed foods and sugary fizzy drinks.
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s tip money into the pockets of sport because it is a stupendous public relations exercise. The idea is for people to make an automatic, often unconscious, link between gold medals and the golden arches of a burger bar.
Food for thought: Olympic athletes queue up inside the Athletes' Village
But if London is to ‘Inspire A Generation’, herding them towards the largest fast-food outlet in the world for a Big Mac, Coke and fries might not be ideal, unless we’re inspiring them to get a bit fatter.
One in four children is overweight and there are many reasons for that, but a diet of processed food is chief among them. One day we will regard these deals with the same disdain we have for the tobacco industry’s previous ties with sport. But right now we’re too busy counting out the shiny medals.
To be fair to London 2012, there are vast swathes of the Olympic Park that carry very little branding. The big corporations have their temples, which are as unsubtle as you might expect for the mega-millions they have paid.
impossible not to love.
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When people who have paid a fortune for tickets grumble the food in the park is too expensive and empty their wallets for a small pie that cost 8 or 10 pieces of sushi and one drink at 22.50, they console themselves with the reality that this is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’.
And of course it is. Truly. An incredible one, too. I’d just like to know where all this money goes The IOC claims to be a ‘non-profit organisation’. If so, someone’s doing the books incorrectly or some staggering expense accounts are being covered. The IOC state 92 per cent of their income is used to support the staging of the Games (I thought taxpayers did that) or promote the worldwide development of sport. They say they keep eight per cent to cover their own costs.
The Romans used to keep the masses happy with ‘bread and circuses’. I’m afraid there’s no free bread here, but if you are prepared to queue, a Big Mac is 2.69 and a 500ml Coke is 2.30.