The chief executive of London 2012 has praised the Paralympic sponsor Atos, less than a day after nearly 100 activists – including a retired Paralympian – launched a week of protests over its involvement in the games.
Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, had been asked by a foreign journalist whether it was wise “in hindsight” to accept Atos as a sponsor, because of the controversy surrounding its work for the government assessing disabled people for out-of-work disability benefits.
But Deighton launched into an impassioned defence of Atos, saying it was an “incredibly valuable technology partner”, providing the IT systems for both managing the accreditation process and providing competition results for London 2012.
He said Atos was an “absolutely critical and valuable” part of delivering the Paralympics, and that without Atos and the other London 2012 sponsors “neither games would be what they are”.
The previous day, the grassroots campaign groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut were joined by the accessible transport organisation Transport for All for their own spoof “opening ceremony” of the “Atos Games”, five days of protests aimed at highlighting the damage the company has done to disabled people across the country.
The ceremony beside City Hall, the London mayor’s headquarters, featured three disabled activists being awarded medals for the Atos Games, before they were “reassessed” by Atos and told they were “undeserving of state support”, and could no longer be an “active, contributing member of society”, and had their medals cut off, and their benefits removed.
Tara Flood, who competed in three Paralympic Games, and won gold, silver and bronze medals in the pool in Barcelona in 1992, was awarded the Atos “gold medal”.
She said afterwards that it had been important for her to take part in the protest, as a retired Paralympian, so that the public was able to “link disabled people’s disgust” with Atos to the London Paralympics.
Flood said it was important for the government to realise that it “can’t only be proud of elite, medal-winning athletes. Someone like me, as a retired Paralympian, can make sure everyone makes that connection.”
DPAC stressed that it recognised “the commitment, the effort and the sacrifice” of Britain’s Paralympians, but that Atos had “hounded and harassed disabled people the length of this country” and was now seeking “to bask in the reflected glory” of Paralympians by sponsoring the games.
DPAC described at the ceremony how people in comas and with terminal illnesses had been found fit for work by Atos assessors, and how the company tries to “convince us that they respect the commitment of disabled athletes” while “trampling all over disabled people’s commitment to overcoming barriers and having aspirations beyond eating and sleeping”.
DPAC also warned that Paralympians would soon find themselves being reassessed by Atos for their disability living allowance (DLA), as DLA is gradually replaced from next year with the new personal independence payment, with an estimated one in five losing their support.
And it warned that DPAC would “hound and harass Atos the length of this country… in parliament, in the courts, online, and on the streets”.
28 August 2012