Protesters set Olympic Park tone for months of Atos protests


Disabled protesters furious at the involvement of two of London 2012’s major sponsors have targeted the first “test event” held to prepare for next year’s Paralympics.

Protesters were denied access to the Olympic Park by LOCOG, the 2012 organisers, but were able to position themselves near the entrance gates in Stratford as ticket-holders arrived.

They are angry that both Atos and Dow Chemical Company will be sponsors of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Atos is paid £100 million a year by the government to test eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, and has been the subject of widespread criticism from disabled people over its performance and the way that some of its doctors, nurses and other staff treat claimants.

One of the campaigners, Debbie Jolly, said there would “definitely” be further protests about Atos’s involvement in the 2012 games.

But she stressed that the protests were not aimed at Paralympic athletes themselves.

She said: “It is just bizarre and ironic that while Atos are considering people fit for work when they are not… the athletes will be competing under the Atos banner.

“It is quite disgusting and I think a lot of disabled people feel the same way.”

Another of the disabled campaigners, Adam Lotun, said he was “disappointed” that LOCOG had refused them permission to enter the Olympic Park, but praised the sensitive handling of the protest by police and security officers.

Protesters also highlighted widespread anger at the involvement in London 2012 of the US-based Dow Chemical Company.

Thousands of people died as a result of the leak of toxic chemicals from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, on 3 December 1984, while tens of thousands more are believed to be experiencing long-term health conditions.

Union Carbide paid $470 million dollars compensation to the Indian government, before the company’s shares were bought by Dow in 2001. Dow insists it has no connection with the tragedy and is not liable for any further compensation claims, which are the subject of legal action in India.

The Indian Olympic Association has threatened to boycott the London 2012 games in protest at the involvement of Dow, which is paying for the fabric curtain that will be wrapped around the main Olympic Park stadium.

Last weekend’s London International Goalball Tournament was the first “test event” for the 2012 Paralympics, with international women’s teams representing China, Canada, Britain, Sweden and USA. Goalball is a three-a-side sport played by blind and partially-sighted athletes, using a ball with bells inside.

Lotun criticised the decision to hold the test event on 3 December, the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, despite anger in India over Dow’s involvement with 2012.

A LOCOG spokeswoman said their latest information was that the Indian team would not be boycotting the 2012 games.

She said the protesters had not been able to enter the Olympic Park because of the need for “airport-style security”, but that every spectator would have passed the protest on the way to the goalball arena.

She said she could not comment on whether protesters would be allowed inside the Olympic Park during the Olympics or Paralympics themselves, but did not rule out the possibility.

She said: “With anything as high-profile as the Olympics and Paralympics, there are always going to be protests. We will just look at every protest on a separate basis and police it responsibly and sensitively.”

But she said there had been no disruption to the test event, which was attended by nearly 2,000 spectators on each of its two days.

An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman said: “Atos is proud of its role as the worldwide IT partner for the Paralympic Games and is committed to delivering the technology that will help ensure a successful games for athletes and spectators.

“Atos Healthcare is also proud of the work undertaken by its dedicated doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who conduct the independent assessments for health-related benefits on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

“We are always looking to ensure that the quality of our service is the best it can be and in our last annual survey of 31,000 claimants, our healthcare professionals achieved a satisfaction rating of around 90 per cent.”

But she accepted that this survey was carried out without claimants seeing the reports the healthcare professionals had written, and before they received the results of their assessments.

No-one from Dow was available to comment about the protest.

Meanwhile, a survey of nearly 400 disabled people for the charity Scope found that just 23 per cent were “excited” about the Paralympics, while the same proportion felt “empowered” by the games.

A similar number of those questioned (22 per cent) said the Paralympics “patronises” disabled people, while one in five said they make disabled people appear “second class”, and nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) said they were “a waste of money”.

But nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of those disabled people questioned said they felt the games presented an “opportunity” for disabled people.

7 December 2011