India’s flip-flop on London Olympics

Sports ministry yet to take a decision on boycott after Bhopal tragedy victims’ outcry

By Moyna
Published: Friday 02 March 2012

A day after reports emerged that India may partially boycott the 2012 Olympics, the Indian Olympics Authority and sports ministry has said they are yet to reach a decision. The ministry says due to public outcry the Centre wrote to the International Olympic Committee registering their protest to Dow Chemicals' sponsorship of the event. Activists campaigning for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, however, say the government is not serious about taking a firm stand.

Dow Chemicals owns Union Carbide, the US firm accused in the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal. But Dow has consistently denied responsibility and distanced itself from the case. In December 1984 methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant into the streets of Bhopal. The company estimated that 3,800 people were killed while Amnesty International commissioned a study that showed 7,000 perished within days and another 15,000 died later from exposure to the gas. Since 2010—the year Dow was signed as a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics—activists, 1984 survivors and victim families have been protesting and asking the government to boycott the games.

On February 24, 2012, the Centre wrote to the International Olympic Committee (IOA). Rajesh Malhotra, public information officer of the ministry of sports and youth affairs, says since it is a sensitive issue and there has been public outcry both nationally and internationally, the government has, for the first time in such an instance, intervened. “Once we receive the response, we will take a decision.” He adds there is strong public sentiment and all options are being weighed. A group of activists on February 27 met the UK High Commission officials, requesting them to put pressure on the UK government and IOC to drop the company as the sponsor of the games. Rachna Dhingra, of Bhopal Group for Information and Action says, “the government needs to take a firm stand and send a strong message.”

The victims and survivor groups want a full boycott, she adds. Dhingra further adds, “If the government was interested, it would not have waited till March.” The games are scheduled to start in July. According to her, IOA is to be blamed as they keep changing their stance and are yet to come out in public with a strong message to the UK government. Citing examples like the 1980 boycott of the Soviet games, Dhingra adds “Our country should be urging other countries to boycott the games as well.” Ever since the debate started, the government has been saying that it would not completely boycott the event and only the athletes would participate in the games while the official delegates may boycott the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Dhigra says the soft steps might be a result of the far-reaching influence that Dow Chemicals has. She claims that Dow Chemicals may have sponsored some parts of the Indian Commonwealth games held in 2010. A series of RTIs have been filed that show Dow was a supplier for the games held in Delhi.

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