‘Brand army’ have tight grip on Olympic Games

Official sponsors have an iron grip on the Olympic Games in London. A 250-strong army of Olympic officials is making sure that small businesses and individuals are not illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and BP.

By Anne Saenen
Published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Africa Desk

Heading the biggest brand protection operation in the United Kingdom, a team of trading experts working for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) have the right to enter shops to ensure unlicensed traders aren’t selling official Olympic items. Guilty parties could face court action and fines up to 20,000 british pounds(around 25,000 euros).

Besides monitoring unauthorised trade, the officers, dressed in purple, also look out for the illegal use of Olympic logos and banned words like ‘Olympics’, ‘Games’, ‘gold’, ‘2012’, ‘London’ and ‘summer’.

Olympic brand army
Critics have accused London Olympics organisers of embarking on an extreme crackdown, and call them the “Olympic brand army”. As we approach the last weekend of the Games, heaps of stories of small businesses and individuals who have fallen out with the ‘brand police’ have appeared in the media.

About 800 retailers have reportedly been banned from selling chips near Olympic venues to avoid breaching fast-food rights secured by McDonald’s.

Visitors at the Olympic park have been told to put down their umbrellas when it was raining because of unofficial logos on them.

Sausage rings
A butcher by the name of Dennis Spurr in the town Weymouth, where sailing events took place, had to take down a sign featuring the five Olympic rings made of sausages. He eventually changed the rings to squares and 2012 to 2013.

Another defiant shop owner is Egyptian-born Hamdy Shahein, who runs newsagent Hamdy’s News in London. He had decorated his shop with balloons, bunting and Olympic banners. He was also paid a visit by the trading officials.

“Without identifying herself, a lady came up to me and grabbed my hand. ‘You can’t do this’, she shouted at me,” says Shahein. “I had no idea what was going on.”

What’s fake?
Although Shahein is an official Olympic retailer, he was accused of having unofficial branded products in and outside his shop. They wanted him to take down the decorations, but he refused.

“I told them to educate me. What is fake and what isn’t? I threatened to close my shop and go home,” he says.

During the incident onlookers gathered in front of the shop. They told the officials to leave him alone. “The community was behind me. They said that I was doing something nice for the neighbourhood,” Shahein recalls.

Refuse to remove
After the officials left, Shahein was talking about the incident with locals when a police van stopped in front of his shop. About six policemen stepped into the newsagent to tell him to take down the decorations.

Shahein, who put money and time into decorating his shop, refused again. “I told them that if they wanted me to take the Olympic flags down, they had to do it themselves.” After a long discussion they decided to leave.

“The whole experience was upsetting,” says Shahein. “I work in an honest way. I am committed to the community and didn’t do anything wrong.”

He is still waiting for a personal apology by the trading officials. In the meantime, the Olympic banners still hang out of his shop window.

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