The TV presenter and former Olympic athlete Steve Cram is facing calls from disabled activists to step down as “ambassador” for the company that carries out controversial “fitness for work” tests for the government.
Cram – a former middle distance world record-holder and world championship gold medallist and now a BBC athletics commentator – has been named as UK ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by Atos Origin.
Atos Healthcare, a division of Atos Origin (AO), has attracted repeated criticism and angry protests – including another this week outside AO’s central London headquarters – over the way it carries out work capability assessments (WCA) of disabled people seeking out-of-work disability benefits.
Activists say Cram has betrayed his support for the Paralympics by representing Atos, and are particularly angry that he has refused to respond to his disabled critics and explain his position.
The campaign is being hosted by The Virtual Gherkin, a Facebook group that supports people to share information about government cuts, and enables them to have their voices heard if they cannot attend demonstrations, marches and actions.
A spokesman for The Virtual Gherkin said hundreds of people had already backed the campaign, and added: “We don’t know his reasons for accepting the ambassadorship, but it is offensive that he has done it.”
Campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts has written to Cram and his agent, expressing “surprise” at his decision to become an Atos ambassador, and briefing him on the ongoing campaigns against its work for the government.
The letter adds: “Bearing in mind the increasingly voluble and angry voices of disabled people and their allies, we wonder if being an ambassador to Atos is worth the disappointment of the public and loss of the reputation you would have built over the years.”
Only last month, three Atos Healthcare executives were asked by a committee of MPs to explain why their organisation was so “feared and loathed” by disabled people.
Adam Wheatley, managing director of Mission Sports Management, the agency that represents Cram, said the WCA was “not something that Steve Cram is involved with”, as his “remit is to work on the Olympic marketing, highlighting the importance of the work that Atos Origin does in providing the results information for the global media services during the Olympics”.
Wheatley declined to comment when asked whether Cram shared campaigners’ concerns about Atos, if he was aware of the campaign, or whether he thought he should resign as an ambassador.
15 June 2011