International Olympic Committee

Naked truth about need for security

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am

Napoleon's soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone, the key to unlocking the ancient Egyptian language. It was bigger than I had expected and is one of the most popular artefacts at the British Museum, which has housed it since 1802. One of the many treasures plundered over the centuries by the British - the stone was moved after the capitulation of Alexandria by the French to British troops in 1801 - it owns a prominent spot in the sprawling museum, which was packed with gawking visitors.

In a room next to the Rosetta Stone stands a figure of a discus thrower. Naked and with muscles rippling, this was the iconic symbol of the Games when it was held for the second time in London in 1948. Life was less complicated then. As was the Olympic Games. There were no giant corporates insisting the man on the street couldn't wear a shoe or a T-shirt made by a competitor, or that he or she couldn't eat fries cooked under a different arch(es).

The lengths to which sponsors go to protect their brands are extreme. Adidas, an official sponsor , is worried rival Nike will try ambush marketing tactics, forcing organisers to say anyone wearing a Nike shoe or T-shirt would not be allowed entry into competition venues. They later backtracked, saying if you are on your own and wearing 'forbidden' shoes or shirts, you will be allowed entry but if you are in a group and you are all wearing the 'offensive' shirts or shoes, you will be barred. Individually, you're okay, but collectively it's ambush marketing.

If you have a craving for fries while watching artistic gymnastics or synchronised swimming, then you will have to go to McDonald's. The organising committee has informed the 800 food retailers at the 40 Olympic venues that the fast food chain's sponsorship deal gives it 'sole rights to sell chips or French fries'. An exception has been made for places serving fish and chips - but customers won't be allowed to order Britain's national dish without the fish.

It's not only the giant corporations who are precious about their products. The International Olympic Council has always taken an overbearing stance on its most valuable brand - the rings. A butcher who tried to be creative and turn his sausages into Olympic rings faced the wrath of the Olympic police. There have been similar stories of a bagel maker (who must have accidentally stacked five bagels next to each other), a florist (who had strung flowers into an Olympic bouquet) and a pensioner (who had knitted a 2012 doll for a church bazaar) falling foul of the draconian copyright rules.

It's time for some fresh thinking when addressing these issues. How about we to go back to the days of the ancient Games, where spectators wore nothing, just like the athletes. Being butt-naked was celebrated in those days. Athletes (only men) competed in the flesh, so to speak. They were proud of their bodies. Legend has it that the first Games in 776BC was held to celebrate the success of one of Hercules' 12 labours - the cleaning of the Augean stables. The statues of the Greek athletes in the British Museum, or the figurines on vases and carved on stone, show not a shed of clothing. It would also help solve another major issue today - security. In the era of the suicide bomber and the mad gunman, nudity would be the best safety measure.

Just imagine a Games where all the fans were naked. Organisers wouldn't have to tear their hair out wondering how to police the Games, and would have hundreds of millions of pounds to put to better use. It wouldn't have to contract a private company to provide security services - a move which has backfired, with private security company G4S at the centre of a storm for failing to honour its commitments.

This has forced the organisers to draft in British Army troops. After the initial shortfall was filled, an additional 1,200 troops were called up, taking overall numbers of Army personnel to more than 18,000. If this was the Beijing Games four years ago, such a move would have been derided by the Western media as a blatant move to stifle freedom of movement.

Phrases such as a 'steel ring over the Olympics' would have been the norm. But sadly the reality of today's world calls for such Orwellian measures. To put it all into context, the number of troops guarding the Games is double the British Army's presence in Afghanistan. These Olympics are the largest peacetime event staged in London and the British government is intent on delivering a safe and secure Games, hence the extra troops.

One doesn't need a Rosetta Stone to decipher the clear and present danger posed by terrorism today. IOC president Jacques Rogge drew attention to this when he paid a personal tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes killed 40 years ago during the Munich Olympics. Rogge was a competitor at those Games. But it has been post-9/11 that the scourge of terrorism has really come alive. God forbid something like that happening in London.

It is issues like these that the organising committee needs to be addressing (and hopefully it has done so sufficiently), not policing irrelevant sideshows like who wears or eats what.