a christian perspective on the world today

The Rich Sport

As the Olympics kick off, more and more people are feeling disquieted about the Games, in that they are no longer about the world’s finest athletes competing in a spirit of friendliness. The Olympics, to them, is more concerned with the big end of town and the greed and corruption that comes with the sponsorship from large corporations.

At the time of writing, Indian athletes are threatening to boycott the London Olympics. They are accusing Lord Coe, the former track champion now in charge of London’s Games, of a controversial sponsorship deal with a chemical company.

Dow Chemical has sponsored the London Olympics to the tune of £64 million. Dow also owns Union Carbide, whose Indian subsidiary was responsible for the Bhopal industrial disaster in 1984. It was one of the world’s most tragic incidents, estimated to have killed 15,000 people and injured a lot more.

While money has been paid by the chemical company to assist the community, it is the ongoing suffering of the people that is so concerning. The population of Bhopal are still shaken by the gas disaster almost 30 years ago and its ongoing contamination.

What has outraged many Indian athletes and politicians is the recent awarding of a much smaller £7 million sponsorship deal to Dow, allowing it to “wrap” the stadium in company fabric, thus giving the chemical giant a global media profile.

The Indian Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the state of which Bhopal is the capital, said, “The funds intended for sponsoring the Olympics would be far better spent alleviating the misery suffered by the people of Bhopal.”

The former Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell, who worked closely with Lord Coe to win the Olympics for London, added, “It is not in their [Coe and the organising committee] interests to have an association with a company with a record that is inconsistent with Olympic values.

The unacceptability of Dow hinges on the continuing nature of the crisis for the people who live in that area. It is better to have an unwrapped stadium than one wrapped in controversy.”

But big money is hard to refuse, especially if you are in debt or trying to escape debt. The temptation is to accept money and willingly refuse to investigate where that money might have come from.

And it’s not just the London Olympics that has us thinking about the issue of money and justice. In 2008, Beijing’s pre-Olympic cleanup displaced many migrants and squatters.

Take Wang, who had worked for his cousin selling luggage and other goods for seven years prior to the Olympics. Each night, the men would roll out their mats and sleep on the floor of their small shop. But then his shop, along with many others, was knocked down to make way for construction related to the Olympics. Because Wang and others were not residents of Beijing, they were not eligible for relocation assistance from the local government.

While the Olympic Games were an occasion of celebration and source of pride for many Beijing residents, for others like Wang, the Games spelled economic hardship.

This is not just an Olympic problem, it is an issue confronting our society in many areas. Very often it is the poor or disadvantaged in our world, who pay a heavy price.

This great divide between the rich and the poor and its growing dissent is seen more obviously in the “Occupy” movement that has gone around the world. The first Occupy protest to receive wide coverage was Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Since then, similar protests have occurred in many other countries including Australia, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Nigeria.

Occupy Wall Street was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters. With their slogan “We are the 99 per cent,” their main intention was to address the growing income inequality between the wealthiest 1 per cent and the rest of the population.

Over recent years, observation, experience and actual research have shown that economic and tax reforms have favoured the wealthy, disadvantaging ordinary citizens and even middle classes when it came to increases in income or tax reduction.

Similar protests could be heard during the Global Financial Crisis where heads of companies were still getting generous salaries and bonuses even as their company’s employees were being made redundant.

But why are we surprised? A long time ago, the Bible writer James predicted a time when such economic injustice would be prevalent in the world.

Addressing a certain class of the wealthy he says, “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:3–7).

It would seem that the closer we get to the time of the return of Christ to earth, the more we will experience economic injustice and inequity. To many, a billion dollars in the bank is still not enough.

The good news is that as we see it happening, we can be assured that this is just another sign that Jesus is about to come, putting an end to all such evil and exploitation, so that unfairness, poverty, greed and envy will be no more.

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