Monday, 22 February 2010

(More Than a) Word from our Sponsor

Thanks to Nancy Wilson for the inspiration for today's post. She commented the other day about the visibility of bottled water at the various press conferences being aired from Vancouver 2010. As is often the case with Nancy, her comment got me thinking ...

Turns out, I guess that's what happens when you hand the keys to the city over to Olympic organizers.

I will be the first to confess I have a strong emotional reaction to what seems like corporate sponsorship overriding the democratically expressed preference of a city's citizens to ban bottled water. That's right, in April 2009 Vancouver City Council voted to ban bottled water at city-run facilities, some of which are being used as Olympic venues. Turns out that because the City's contractual arrangements with VANOC, the organising commitee of the games, pre-date the decision of the current council, the new mandate for eliminating bottled water does not apply in this case. Cooperation by sponsors and contracted suppliers for the Games is voluntary.

With Coca-Cola anticipated to sell 7.5 million beverages - including bottled Dasani water - at the Games, it appears doubtful any voluntary educational program by the City of Vancouver to inform them of preferences for no bottled water will be heeded.

Regardless of the waste issue, what I realize is resonating with me is the ability of corporate event sponsorships to interfere with community living, and democratically expressed preferences.

And Coca-Cola is not the only target, in my mind. Friday I went to my local market to pick up some groceries. It's a great public market...every weekend for 10 years I've stopped in at the baker, soupmeister and fishmonger to get locally made brunch goodies for the weekend. Last Friday the owners had to tell me "I'm sorry, we're only taking Visa until the end of the Games". They looked apologetic, obviously having gotten used to the surprise or perhaps irate reaction of regular customers used to paying other ways. It wasn't inconvenient enough I had to find a way to pay for my Games tickets using the only credit card I don't own, now I can't get groceries without a one?

As a planner I'm fully aware of the need for sponsors to enable events, particularly of the scale of the Olympics. I expect that when I participate in the Games that by proxy I'll have to honour official sponsor protocols and all that come with it. However, as a resident of a community affected by a large-scale event I'm questioning the ethics of enabling corporations as part of their sponsorship arrangement to control how I engage in my community beyond the event, as well as their power to override local government.

Would welcome perspectives on both sides.

For more reading on related topics:
Vancouver's Push to Ban Plastic Bottles Won't Hold for the Olympics
Council of Canadian's Blog: Coca-Cola's Plant Bottle
The Top Dogs of Olympic Sponsorship
Dispatches from Vancouver: The Curious Case of GM Place
Marketers Play Olympic Cat and Mouse Game

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